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Posted: July 31, 2015

Mayor concerned about closures after accidents

By Chris Conway/e-KNOW

District of Invermere Mayor Gerry Taft is concerned about long highway closures following traffic accidents after a July 11 fatality near Radium Hot Springs.

The accident caused an overnight closure of Highway 93/95 and diversion of traffic along Westside Road.

“The road was closed from the time of the accident around 6 or 7 p.m. and didn’t open again until 5 a.m.,” Taft told council on July 14. “So all lanes were closed, no traffic through, and this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen something like this. It’s happened in the (Kootenay National) park as well.

“I know sometimes it’s a delay getting the coroner there but often it’s also a delay with the RCMP getting their traffic accident analyst to the scene,” Taft continued. “From my own opinion I think that the time is excessive. In a large city or anywhere else on the highway I don’t think that you would see that length of delay and with the traffic that was travelling on Westside Road, the unofficial detour, it creates the potential for another accident and more loss of life.

“I’ve heard that in some cases the traffic accident analyst has to drive in from the Okanagan and that the RCMP is still using very old fashioned technology with survey type cameras and cones and photographs and it’s a very lengthy and time consuming process.

“I would like to write some letters to the RCMP, and to whatever relevant ministries, and of course bring this up with (RCMP Staff Sergeant) Marko (Shehovac) next time we talk to him.

“I’ve also heard, and I don’t know if this is true, about the traffic analyst type people – that there’s vacant positions in Golden and in Cranbrook and so therefore there is no one nearby,” said Taft.  I think we have to get to a higher level of service and a quicker response and encourage some use of newer technology. If this is about photographing and about documentation for potential court cases, whatever it is, there’s got to be ways to do it faster than 12 or 14 hours,” he said.

“Theoretically there should be ways of having single alternating traffic and trying to have some sort of compromise that protects the integrity of the accident scene but also allows for the safe movement of people. It’s such an important part of our local economy and if this kind of incident was to happen on a Friday afternoon on a long weekend in Kootenay National Park and they kept that road closed for 14 hours, it would have a huge impact on us,” Taft told council.

“So I just want to add this to our list of advocacy and to write some letters and see if we can get some understanding of what the issues are and hopefully resolve something so we’re not waiting for someone to drive from Vernon to come and take some photographs; and that we’re not having hundreds and hundreds of cars on each side of an accident scene turned around or backed up and waiting for 14 hours.”

Coun. Greg Anderson stated that he was reluctant to start writing letters if council does not know all the things that the RCMP was dealing with that day. “I’d like to know more about what was on their plate,” said Anderson, while agreeing that 14 hours is too long. “It’s a difficult situation, somebody still lost their life and if debris was scattered all over the road, well maybe they literally couldn’t let people by.”

Anderson suggested that it would be better to talk to S/Sgt. Shehovac first and that maybe he needs some moral support from the municipality to help get staff replaced.

“I’m just a little bit cautious,” said Anderson. “There’s perception and then there’s reality. What’s the reality?”

Taft proposed that the letters be more of an inquiry as to why the delay occurred and seek a dialogue to obtain information.

“I’ll buy that, sure,” agreed Anderson. The councillor moved a motion to that effect, which was carried unanimously.

Lead image: Frances Bridge over Forester Creek, located on Westside Road between Wilmer and Radium Hot Springs. A scenic drive, Westside Road is in no way an ideal detour route for a major highway at peak season. e-KNOW image

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