Coalition continues to advocate safety

By CAROL CHRISTIAN, Connect Contributor

A photo taken south of Crow Creek Bridge, looking north on the northbound lane, prior to the opening of the 32 kilometre section of the Highway 63 twinning on September 25, 2015. Supplied photo: ALBERTA TRANSPORTATION

A photo taken south of Crow Creek Bridge, looking north on the northbound lane, prior to the opening of the 32 kilometre section of the Highway 63 twinning on September 25, 2015. Supplied photo: ALBERTA TRANSPORTATION

While the Coalition for a Safer 63 & 881 applauds the 99 per cent completion of the Highway 63 twinning, infrastructure is just one piece of a needed three-prong approach to driving safety. The other two components are enforcement and education.

“We need all three working in concert to affect change. We can have the best infrastructure in the world, but if drivers continue to make dangerous choices behind the wheel we will not see the change we hoped for,” said Debbie Hammond, Executive Director of Coalition for a Safer 63 & 881.

“We need all three working in concert to affect change. We can have the best infrastructure in the world, but if drivers continue to make dangerous choices behind the wheel we will not see the change we hoped for,” said Debbie Hammond, Executive Director of Coalition for a Safer 63 & 881.

“Same goes for enforcement. We know more enforcement tends to slow people down, but without the education, change doesn’t come as easy. The education piece is as important as the enforcement and infrastructure. And, some might say it is the most important because these are not accidents, they are preventable crashes caused by driver error and that is avoidable.”

On Monday, Alberta Transportation opened a 16-kilometre newly twinned section, following another 53 kilometres opened late last week. Of the 240-kilometre stretch between Fort McMurray and Grassland, 237 kilometres are now twinned.

This year, 185 kilometres have been opened, 68 of those ahead of schedule. To date, over $1 billion has been spent on the Highway 63 twinning project. The remaining three kilometres, south of Horse Creek, are expected to open next summer.

Alberta Transportation is currently working to identify a potential Commercial Rest Area location on Highway 63. It’s also working with other ministries to work towards improving emergency response issues on highways 63 and 881.
Current annual average daily traffic on the highway south of Highway 881 is around 5,000 vehicles per day, with truck traffic accounting for one-third.

Hammond points out driver education is paramount in helping drivers look at their own habits and take corrective action, which is why the Coalition continues to develop and execute educational campaigns on work sites in its communities.

“I think we’ve seen an improvement in driving behaviours and I’d like to think that it’s because of the work we are all doing to get the message out there.”

“I think we’ve seen an improvement in driving behaviours and I’d like to think that it’s because of the work we are all doing to get the message out there.”

However, while speaking with law enforcement partners, Hammond said they have noticed speeds increasing, with more speeding tickets being issued to motorists driving in excess of 50 kilometres over the limit.

“That tells me that we have a lot of work to do in terms of educating drivers.”

While law enforcement believes the Coalition has made a difference, Hammond strongly believes that having more enforcement on the highways absolutely slows traffic down.

“To put it in the words of some folks I talked to at the Fort McMurray oilsands conference in September, they couldn’t believe the number of RCMP and Sheriffs they saw driving up to Fort McMurray for the conference. That visibility is most definitely making a difference as well.”

In remembering those who have died on Highway 63 & 881, the Coalition is collaborating with Safe Communities Wood Buffalo for the National Day of Remembrance for Road Crash Victims to be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on November 18 at MacDonald Island Park.

Last November, the Coalition for a Safer 63 & 881 officially released the eye-opening interactive map to educate drivers about how dangerous those highways can be and can be found at www.fatalities.safer63and881.com/#highway/63.

The twinning of Highway 63 started about nine years ago with the first twinned 16 kilometres from south of Fort McMurray to Highway 881 opening in 2008, but then it seemed government stopped the project. Not so, says Tina Stewart of Alberta Transportation.

“The twinning project was never stopped. Two grading and one base/paving contract were awarded to complete the 36 kilometres of Highway 63 – twinning north of Wandering River. This work was completed in fall of 2012.”

“The twinning project was never stopped. Two grading and one base/paving contract were awarded to complete the 36 kilometres of Highway 63 – twinning north of Wandering River. This work was completed in fall of 2012.”

When a crash occurred on Highway 63 in April 2012 that claimed the lives of Rev. Shannon Wheaton, a pastor at the Family Christian Centre in Dickinsfield, his wife Trena Thompson-Wheaton and their two-year-old son Benjamin, Courtney Penney who was pregnant, an 11-year-old girl and two others, residents came together. A community rally was organized by family and friends of those killed on Highway 63 was held May 5, 2012, demanding the government twin the highway.

Just over two weeks later, former Premier Alison Redford named then Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Mike Allen a special adviser on Highway 63 to her office and the Transportation Minister. She also commissioned a report, due by the end of that June from the transportation ministry, detailing recommendations that encompassed design, construction and safety issues. The report was to be informed by consultation with interested parties along the highway.

When Towards a Safer 63 was tabled, it outlined 22 recommendations; including proposals for enhanced driver education and establishing a dedicated law enforcement presence on highway patrol.

The first recommendation was to accelerate efforts to twin Highway 63. By October, the Alberta Government announced an accelerated timeline for completion of Highway 63 twinning by 2016. Meanwhile, two new passing lanes were built and six existing ones extended, as part of the report’s short-term recommendations.

In addition, a planning study is currently being finalized, which will identify proposed climbing/passing lanes and safety rest area locations for Highway 881.

The study is expected to complete by year’s end. Any subsequent design work would be subject to available funding. Currently, this work is not on the Provincial Construction Program. It is premature to speculate on what will be released in the budget on October 27.

– Connect Weekly –