A commercial transport brake inspection area west of the city designed to improve road safety is being viewed by a group of concerned truck drivers and area residents as a potential death trap.
About 90 people vented their anger and frustration at Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure officials in a 2 3/4-hour meeting Wednesday night at Beaverly Fire and Rescue Hall. The group wants the ministry to decommission the site and move it to a safer location.
"If they don't, they will be in hot water when the accidents happen -- we're going to get fatalities," said Trudy Michaloski, who lives on a acreage that borders the site of the brake check.
The gravel inspection site, 24 kilometres west of Prince George on Highway 16, lacks deceleration lanes for approaching trucks and has no acceleration lane for trucks pulling out onto the highway. Complaints have been lodged with the ministry that approaching traffic is being forced to wait for trucks slowing down from highway speeds to exit the road, and in some cases motorists are making unsafe moves into oncoming traffic to pass the slow-moving trucks. Since the brake check opened in late December, the Beaverly group says at least two accidents have occurred at that spot.
"When the log trucks are hauling, we have one of the rigs pulling in and out probably every 30 seconds," Michaloski said. "With that, you get complete bottleneck traffic, and in the winter it took them longer to get up to speed because of the road conditions.
"It's not big enough. There are times when traffic is completely stopped on the highway. Half the trucks either blow right by it or they pull in, slow down and keep going."
All commercial trucks are required to stop at the brake check area, and Michaloski has counted as many as 15 vehicles of all kinds, commercial trucks and regular vehicles bunched up around the inspection site entrance and exit at one time. She said the ministry reexamined the site in February, after the initial complaints were lodged, but by that time, road conditions had improved considerably.
The site was built to increase safety for truck descents into Prince George on Peden Hill. In December 2010, a semi-trailer truck lost its brakes and narrowly averted disaster as it came down Peden Hill through the Vance Road intersection, coming to rest in the parking lot of the Boston Pizza restaurant on the opposite side of the highway. The driver was later charged after it was determined his truck had broken an air-brake line when he made a sharp turn onto the highway.
"We heard the concerns the community had with the safety there and we continue to take their feedback under consideration as we try to figure out a balance between the safety in the Beaverly community and the intended safety benefits of the brake check for the rest of Highway 16 down Peden Hill," said Fort George District acting manager Trent Folk.
"A lot of the concerns brought forward are surrounding the aggressive behaviour of drivers, so there would probably be challenges to overcome regardless of what the location is. The location we have selected has site distance [visibility] that meets criteria and building an acceleration lane would help get trucks up to speed before they enter the through lane."
Contributing to the problem is a hump in the road for eastbound traffic coming up to the brake check, which hides oncoming traffic from truckers pulling on to the highway.
"When you're sitting in the brake check about to pull out, you look and everything's clear and set your truck in motion, a lot of the times there are cars below that hump you cannot see, and you pull out on the highway doing five or 10 kilometres an hour and the car is coming up behind you doing 100," said logging truck driver Troy Michaloski, Trudy's husband. "People are impatient, and everybody's in a hurry and trying to pass you. It's constant, pretty much daily, people try to pass on a double line. Put it further back where it won't disturb the residents."
The ministry is proposing widening the highway to build a 140-metre deceleration off-ramp and a 400-metre acceleration lane to improve safety. But with the Beaverly fire hall entrance 114 metres east of the brake check, where the deceleration lane would be, if an accident were to occur there, residents are concerned it could potentially block that entrance for volunteer crews arriving from the city to attend to the scene. The unpaved brake check also creates dust and noise pollution for residents in the area. Truckers have been leaving their litter behind and are using it as place to urinate. There is also a school bus stop near the site.
Folk said the ministry has been consulting with the community association as well as the Central Interior Logging Association, Lomak Bulk Carriers Corp., and Excel Transport, and Folk said all are all in favour of the proposed lane widenings.
"Safety is our Number 1 concern and so we're going to try to come up with something as quickly as possible," said Folk.
Folk said the ministry will consider a request by the group to move the inspection site to the Potato Flats area 34 kilometres west of the city. That would allow eastbound truckers to check their brakes before they reach the long steep drop that leads to the bridge over Mud River, which over the years has been the scene of several fatal motor vehicle accidents.
The Beaverly group collected 403 names on a signed petition to have the brake check closed and relocated, and that was presented to ministry officials in February. The group had two meetings with the authorities before Wednesday's public meeting.
"I think we're further along than we were before," said Tim Drewcock, vice-president of the Beaverly Community Association. "The meeting was productive and it showed the ministry we are very upset about this, and they need to seriously look at it.
"Something in the evaluation of that site was lost, because it's causing so much of a safety concern. There have been too many near-misses. It's just a bad location."