Calls grow for safety improvements on stretch of Trans-Canada Highway
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/08/2022 (297 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba’s trucking industry and cottage owners want the provincial government to improve safety on a deadly stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway, echoing an appeal from a family stricken by tragedy.
The 17-kilometre section between Falcon Lake and the Manitoba-Ontario boundary is the only remaining undivided part of the route in the province.
The Manitoba Trucking Association has told the province its members want the stretch to be twinned on the same timeline as a multimillion-dollar project already underway in northwestern Ontario.
“It’s been on our radar for some time,” said executive director Aaron Dolyniuk, whose group advocates on behalf of 300 companies in Manitoba’s trucking industry. “Our members are deeply interested in having that (section) twinned.
“There is a lot of traffic there, and it’s a challenging road to navigate.”
“It’s been on our radar for some time… Our members are deeply interested in having that (section) twinned. There is a lot of traffic there, and it’s a challenging road to navigate.” – Aaron Dolyniuk
Ontario is planning to widen a roughly 40-kilometre stretch of the Trans-Canada, known there as Highway 17, between the provincial boundary and the Kenora bypass.
Construction of the first phase — 6.5 kilometres from the provincial boundary to Highway 673 — is due to be completed in 2024, according to Ontario’s latest budget.
Manitoba has previously studied the possibility of expanding its two-lane section, but it has not announced any immediate plans to follow Ontario’s lead.
Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure did not respond to a request for comment before press time Monday.
In a recent interview with the Free Press, the family of a Dryden, Ont., father and son killed in a head-on crash on the undivided section on July 21, 2019, raised concerns about the untwinned lanes ahead of an Aug. 24 sentencing for a tractor-trailer driver.
Mark Lugli, 54, and his 17-year-old son, Jacob, were driving to a golf tournament in Selkirk when the eastbound driver swerved his rig into their lane to avoid crashing into the back of stopped traffic in his lane.
A vehicle had stopped to turn left onto a private access road for cottages on Barren Lake in Whiteshell Provincial Park, Mark and Jacob Luglis’s family was informed.
Relatives were told the transport driver pleaded guilty to two counts of careless driving causing death under the Highway Traffic Act.
They are urging the province to build a dedicated turning lane to access Barren Lake Road, lower the speed limit on the undivided Trans-Canada, and put up a sign alerting drivers to the intersection.
Prior to the tragedy, a group of cottage owners, including Melodie Eshoo, asked the province to make safety improvements to the then-unmarked and “hidden” road.
Eshoo, who acted on behalf of the cottagers, said her stomach is in knots when she makes the “dreaded” left turn from the Trans-Canada’s eastbound lane.
“I’ve been driving that (highway) for 40 years now, and the volume of traffic has increased exponentially,” she said. “Traffic, especially on weekends and summer, is insane.”
The cottagers asked for signs to mark the existence of the road.
“People (headed east) on the highway were trying to figure out why the heck is someone trying to turn left,” said Eshoo.
The group also asked for parking restrictions on a wide gravel approach, where semi-drivers would pull over to rest.
“(The tractor-trailers) made it very challenging to exit the gravel road safely, and it also made it challenging to turn in,” said Eshoo. “We rely on the extended gravel area to pull off the highway because we have to do it very quickly.”
“I’ve been driving that (highway) for 40 years now, and the volume of traffic has increased exponentially… Traffic, especially on weekends and summer, is insane.” – Melodie Eshoo
Eshoo said she initially contacted the provincial parks department to request the improvements, but was told the highways department was responsible.
However, the highways department told her parks staff were responsible for such a request, and nothing was done, Eshoo said.
After the fatal crash involving the Luglis, the group of cottagers contacted the province again with its concerns.
Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure put up signs to mark the road and ban parking on the gravel approach.
The province also trimmed back brush at the intersection to improve sight lines.
The province concluded a dedicated turning lane is not feasible due to the terrain.
The highway is “tightly” located between Barren and Falcon lakes, and is on the crest of a hill, a spokeswoman said previously.
She said the department determined left turns, for eastbound vehicles, are permitted across the double solid centre line because the access road is not public.
As part of the review, potential improvements were also considered at similar intersections at Lyons Lake and Falcon Creek Road.
At Barren Lake Road, the province did not act on the cottagers’ two additional requests in 2020 — a reduced speed limit and a caution sign to warn eastbound drivers that vehicles ahead of them may turn left, said Eshoo.
The current speed limit is 100 km/h. On the Ontario side of the boundary, the maximum is 90 km/h.
Eshoo said she would welcome a limit of 80 km/h.
“People go too fast. I feel reducing the speed limit is prudent,” the retired Winnipegger said. “I think it will make a huge difference. It will give drivers a chance to slow down if need be.”
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Updated on Monday, August 8, 2022 8:09 PM CDT: Info about highway construction updated