Is the park­way at fault?

Why are there so many crashes on the Red Hill Val­ley Park­way? Pos­si­ble causes range from speed­ing to road con­struc­tion. The city has also stud­ied the road sur­face, but will not re­lease the “in­con­clu­sive” re­sults, choos­ing in­stead to repave the Red Hill ah

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - NICOLE O’REILLY

THE RED HILL VAL­LEY PARK­WAY had more than twice as many crashes than the con­nect­ing Lin­coln Alexan­der Park­way over the last five years, de­spite lower traf­fic vol­umes.

While there is no sin­gle cause or easy so­lu­tion, City of Hamil­ton statis­tics show many of the crashes hap­pen in curvy parts of the road be­tween King Street East and Green­hill Av­enue and be­tween Dart­nall Road and Mud Street. Crashes are more com­mon when it’s dark and the ground is wet. Speed­ing is the most fre­quent fac­tor in fa­tal crashes.

Those crash “hot spots” saw around 200 col­li­sions over five years, more than 100 crashes over the next high­est lo­ca­tion. No in­ter­change on the Linc saw more than 51 crashes dur­ing that time frame.

Ru­mour and spec­u­la­tion about the RHVP be­ing slip­pery have plagued the park­way since it opened in 2007, and now the city is plan­ning to repave the road’s sur­face start­ing next year. The work, at least a year ahead of sched­ule, will pre­emp­tively ad­dress a ques­tion staff can­not an­swer: Is the Red Hill too slip­pery?

The city has done lim­ited fric­tion test­ing on the road but re­fuses to make the re­sults pub­lic, say­ing only they were ul­ti­mately in­con­clu­sive.

Of the 994 crashes on these two mu­nic­i­pal park­ways be­tween 2012 and 2015, 668 were on the Red Hill and 326 on the Linc. While about 58,000 ve­hi­cles drive daily on the RHVP, there are nearly 96,000 daily on the Linc, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent an­nual av­er­ages.

The crashes on the two park­ways in­clude 11 deaths since 2012, seven on the RHVP and four on the Linc — each bring­ing a fresh wave of anger

and ques­tions about road safety.

FOR THE MOTH­ERS of Olivia Smosarski and Jor­dyn Hast­ings, 19year-old best friends who died in a cross­over crash when their car crossed the grassy me­dian on the RHVP May 5, 2015, that stretch of the road be­tween King Street East ramp and Green­hill Av­enue ap­pears flawed.

“Call it a gut feel­ing, call it what you want ... I just know,” said Smosarski’s mom, Belinda Maras­sato. “There is some­thing funny about that road.”

Six of the deaths were cross­over col­li­sions, lead­ing fam­i­lies to call for con­tin­u­ous me­dian bar­ri­ers along the park­ways.

The city has been up­dat­ing the roads from a list of safety im­prove­ments rec­om­mended in two 2015 engi­neer­ing re­ports. Most of the work to date has been smaller, less ex­pen­sive projects — ev­ery­thing from new sig­nage to trim­ming veg­e­ta­tion.

The 14 “short-term safety im­prove­ments” to­tal $1.4 mil­lion and are ex­pected to be done by the end of the year, said David Fer­gu­son, su­per­in­ten­dent of traf­fic engi­neer­ing. The hope is they will curb speed­ing and im­prove safety.

How­ever, bar­ri­ers and end-to-end light­ing, which are both rec­om­mended to be stud­ied in the engi­neer­ing re­ports, are not on the ta­ble.

“At this time, bar­ri­ers are not be­ing con­sid­ered,” Fer­gu­son said.

The repaving work is the first bigticket item be­ing tack­led.

It’s ex­pected to cost $4 mil­lion a side, with up­bound lanes set for next year and then down­bound the fol­low­ing year, said Gary Moore, di­rec­tor of engi­neer­ing.

The RHVP was orig­i­nally paved with stone mas­tic as­phalt — a more ex­pen­sive mix that’s sup­posed to last longer. It is known to be slightly more slip­pery (though still meet­ing pro­vin­cial stan­dards) in the first few months, but typ­i­cally has bet­ter fric­tion once the road is worn down.

Yet that 2015 engi­neer­ing re­port found crashes when the road is wet are in­ex­pli­ca­bly go­ing up, not down, and rec­om­mended the city study fric­tion.

And the city did test fric­tion later that year, The Spec­ta­tor has learned. But the re­sults were never made pub­lic.

There is no of­fi­cial re­port, Moore said, only an in­for­mal chart sent in an email in De­cem­ber 2015. The fric­tion test­ing was not ful­some and the re­sults were “in­con­clu­sive,” he said.

But in­stead of do­ing fur­ther test­ing, as was rec­om­mended, the city has de­cided to repave.

“All we got was an in­di­ca­tion that we should do fur­ther work,” Moore said. “It was moot when we de­cided to go ahead with (repaving).”

The city re­fused to share that chart with The Spec­ta­tor.

“No one ever re­leases (that type of ) in­for­ma­tion ... be­cause it’s the first thing any­body (would use in a) law­suit,” Moore said.

It’s not ex­actly clear when staff de­cided to push for repaving, or how much con­cern over fric­tion was a fac­tor, but the work will be re­quested in next year’s bud­get. The repaving will in­clude “shav­ing and paving” the top layer, work that was sup­posed to hap­pen 12 to 15 years af­ter ini­tial paving.

Ward 4 Coun. Sam Merulla said he un­der­stands the road meets pro­vin­cial stan­dards, but given the high traf­fic vol­ume and driver be­hav­iour such as speed­ing, the repaving work is in­tended to ex­ceed those stan­dards. He called it an “en­hance­ment.” Moore said “safety re­views” have shown more cracks and bumps be­lieved to be be­cause of higher-thanan­tic­i­pated use, in­clud­ing more trans­port trucks.

While the bot­tom layer of as­phalt will re­main in­tact, the new top layer is ex­pected to be a su­per­pave mix — 12.5 FC2 — that is known for “high­level fric­tion,” Moore said, adding that stone mas­tic as­phalt is not be­ing con­sid­ered again, in part, be­cause it’s more ex­pen­sive.

He wouldn’t say whether con­cerns over fric­tion also played a role in de­cid­ing what pave­ment to use.

The roads were never de­signed as 400-se­ries high­ways, yet the city com­plains they are fre­quently treated that way by driv­ers, with speed noted as the top con­tribut­ing fac­tor in fa­tal crashes on the park­ways — at 37.5 per cent, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased by Hamil­ton po­lice ear­lier this year. The next fac­tors in fa­tal crashes were im­pair­ment and driver inat­ten­tion, both at 25 per cent. Both park­ways have a posted speed limit of 90 km an hour, yet the city says the av­er­age speed is 110 km an hour.

When Smosarski and Hast­ings died they were not speed­ing, the fam­i­lies say po­lice told them.

Merulla main­tains un­safe and some­times il­le­gal be­hav­iour on the roads is at the heart of most crashes.

“We have a prob­lem in our so­ci­ety with er­ratic and im­pul­sive driv­ers,” he said, later adding that ev­ery­one is “rush­ing to get nowhere.”

“There isn’t a road in the world that can save them from them­selves.”

OLIVIA SMOSARSKI and Jor­dyn Hast­ings were best friends who seemed to bring out the best in each other. They went to dif­fer­ent high schools. Smosarski to Bishop Ton­nos, and Hast­ings to St. Thomas More. They be­came es­pe­cially close af­ter grad­u­at­ing.

Smosarski was “the pro­tec­tor,” feisty and funny, with a “wicked big smile,” said Maras­sato.

She was plan­ning to travel to South Africa that Au­gust to work in a mon­key re­hab sanc­tu­ary, be­fore de­cid­ing where she would go to post­sec­ondary school. She was con­sid­er­ing jour­nal­ism.

“She would say out­ra­geous things just to shock you ... she was just like a dy­namo walk­ing through the door,” Maras­sato said, adding that now the house, even with her three other chil­dren, is quiet.

Hast­ings was the op­po­site: quiet, level-headed, com­pas­sion­ate and fam­ily-ori­ented, said her mom, Tan­dra Hen­der­son.

“Jor­dyn was the kid. I would pull into the drive­way and her car would be there and I would be ex­cited to see her ... I told her I never wanted her to move out.”

She was sup­posed to start a busi­ness pro­gram at Sheri­dan College that Septem­ber.

Just days be­fore her death, Hast­ings, her sis­ter — just 18 months younger and “like a twin” — and their step­brother had re­turned from a 10day trip to Paris and Am­s­ter­dam. When they got home, Jor­dyn pushed past her sis­ter, jumped into her mom’s arms, wrapped her legs around her and whis­pered, jok­ingly, “I know I’m your favourite, Mommy.”

To­gether Hen­der­son and Smosarski were silly, al­ways gig­gling and mak­ing funny videos, leav­ing their fam­i­lies smil­ing pic­tures that re­mind them of the love they had and have lost. “I know Livi and Jor­dyn were to­gether, how aw­ful it was, but also a lit­tle peace­ful,” Hen­der­son said. “I know how much they loved each other.”

On the night of May 5, 2015, the girls stopped at Hast­ings’s house to drop of her dog, Lily. They were go­ing to visit a friend in An­caster and said they’d be home in an hour. It had been rain­ing.

Hast­ings was an ex­pe­ri­enced driver who drove the RHVP reg­u­larly to her work at a restau­rant and as a life­guard.

When Hen­der­son woke around 1:30 a.m. and Hast­ings wasn’t there, she told her­self to re­lax. When she woke again around 3 a.m. and she still wasn’t there, Hen­der­son was wor­ried. Look­ing at her phone, she saw missed calls from her daugh­ter’s boyfriend, who had tracked Hast­ings’s phone to the area where the crash hap­pened.

Hen­der­son called her daugh­ters’ father in Burling­ton, but po­lice were al­ready at his house (the car was in his name). When she asked, he told her their oldest daugh­ter was gone.

It took a lit­tle longer for po­lice to find Maras­sato’s home, as the fam­ily had just moved.

When de­tec­tives knocked on the door around 4:20 a.m. she thought some­one was try­ing to break in. Even­tu­ally, af­ter they flashed their badges, she opened the door and the rest is a bit of a blur.

They know from po­lice that the car was trav­el­ling around 90 km/h in the right-hand lane, when for an un­known rea­son, they lost con­trol.

Skid marks showed that three times Hast­ings tried to cor­rect the wheel, but they kept mov­ing to­ward the cen­tre, the moth­ers said. The car crossed through the grassy me­dian and was hit by an on­com­ing car in the south­bound lanes.

The moms feel strongly their daugh­ters’ deaths could have been pre­vented if there had been a cen­tre me­dian (in­stead of the grassy cen­tre). Even when speed, im­pair­ment, or dis­tracted driv­ing are fac­tors, they be­lieve the road can be made safer for ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing the other driv­ers who un­wit­tingly be­come en­snared in crashes.

“We’re re­ally con­cerned with that twisty, dark, windy area ... that stretch has a lot of crashes,” Maras­sato said.

When the en­vi­ron­men­tal assess­ment was done for the RHVP, it rec­om­mended min­i­mal light­ing, so the city only has lights at “de­ci­sion points,” which are exit ramps, Moore said. There are four lights at each exit, two more than were provin­cially man­dated.

There are cur­rently no plans to add more lights, Moore said.

There were no wit­nesses the night Hast­ings and Smosarski died, save the woman who hit them and then the flurry of 911 calls from peo­ple who came upon the hor­rific scene.

Ul­ti­mately, po­lice closed the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the crash as in­con­clu­sive on May 12, 2015, said po­lice spokesper­son Const. Han­nah Carter.

“I’m go­ing to talk about the un­think­able ... I al­ways re­live the last sec­onds, what they must have thought as that car was com­ing to­ward them,” Maras­sato said. “Even if it’s just a split sec­ond, it’s a split sec­ond too long ... the ter­ror.”

THE CITY’S TRAF­FIC de­part­ment is con­stantly watch­ing and work­ing on ways to im­prove the road’s safety. Man­age­ment says they are deeply up­set when there are fa­tal crashes, but also say there is no panacea, es­pe­cially when peo­ple con­tinue to speed.

“I have a huge amount of sym­pa­thy and em­pa­thy for the fam­i­lies,” said Mar­tin White, man­ager of traf­fic op­er­a­tions and engi­neer­ing.

“One of the most dif­fi­cult things in our job is to deal with the emo­tion of what hap­pens on in­fra­struc­ture.”

Yet there are rarely sim­ple fixes. White cau­tions that me­dian bar­ri­ers would be a very ex­pen­sive and per­haps dif­fi­cult project be­cause they would need to be care­fully en­gi­neered to not cause their own prob­lems with driv­ers bounc­ing off them.

Then there is the ques­tion of whether the road will ever be ex­panded in the fu­ture — if that hap­pens, it makes sense to wait to en­gi­neer any bar­ri­ers to match those needs, he said.

Typ­i­cally, when a bar­rier is in­stalled, it will re­duce the sever­ity of crashes, but will also in­crease the

“At this time, bar­ri­ers are not be­ing con­sid­ered.”

DAVID FER­GU­SON SU­PER­IN­TEN­DENT, TRAF­FIC ENGI­NEER­ING

“There is some­thing funny about that road.”

BELINDA MARAS­SATO MOTHER OF OLIVIA SMOSARSKI

“Jor­dyn was the kid ... I told her I never wanted her to move out.”

TAN­DRA HEN­DER­SON MOTHER OF JOR­DYN HAST­INGS

When the en­vi­ron­men­tal assess­ment was done for the RHVP, it rec­om­mended min­i­mal light­ing, so the city only has lights at “de­ci­sion points,” which are exit ramps.

num­ber of col­li­sions, said Eric Hilde­brand, a pro­fes­sor of civil engi­neer­ing at the Univer­sity of New Brunswick and road safety ex­pert.

“It’s a bal­ance or a trade-off,” he said. “It’s not an easy thing to fig­ure out.”

De­cid­ing when and where bar­ri­ers should be in­stalled “can’t be a politi­cian promis­ing griev­ing fam­i­lies,” rather it needs to be care­fully stud­ied and based off of an engi­neer­ing re­port.

There are many fac­tors to con­sider, he said.

For in­stance, roads with less than 20,000 cars a day, with speed lim­its 70 km an hour or less or roads with grassy me­di­ans that are at least 8-10 me­tres wide are typ­i­cally seen as not need­ing bar­ri­ers. The Red Hill and the Linc would meet that thresh­old on speed and traf­fic, but not on me­dian width.

How­ever, crash his­tory and curves in the road are also fac­tors to con­sider, Hilde­brand said.

And along with caus­ing more crashes, there are also other trade­offs, in­clud­ing im­ped­ing snow clear­ing and stor­age, mak­ing emer­gency ve­hi­cle ac­cess more dif­fi­cult and the main­te­nance cost of con­tin­u­ally hav­ing to fix bar­ri­ers that are dam­aged by crashes, Hilde­brand said.

There are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent types of bar­ri­ers — from con­crete, to steel, to cable — to con­sider, along with the pos­si­bil­ity of in­stalling bar­ri­ers only at par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble or crash-prone stretches.

Hilde­brand said it’s of­ten bet­ter to spend the mil­lions a bar­rier can cost on other safety im­prove­ments.

When the Red Hill Val­ley Park­way was built, it was one of the first in On­tario to use per­pet­ual pave­ment — a de­sign that uses mul­ti­ple lay­ers — with the goal of hav­ing a road that lasts longer and re­quires less work. The bot­tom lay­ers are sup­posed to last at least 50 years.

The Linc, which does not use a per­pet­ual pave­ment de­sign, was last repaved in 2011, and is ex­pected to be repaved again in 2020.

The stone mas­tic as­phalt (SMA) mix­ture used on the Red Hill is more ex­pen­sive than other as­phalt mixes be­cause of the high qual­ity of ag­gre­gate used and use of more wet as­phalt (think of it like the glue that holds the ag­gre­gate to­gether), says Has­san Baaj, a Univer­sity of Water­loo as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of civil and en­vi­ron­men­tal engi­neer­ing and pave­ment ex­pert.

“When well de­signed, SMA makes a good sur­face,” Baaj said.

Once the road is “pol­ished” by use af­ter a few months, it can have bet­ter fric­tion and is sup­posed to last longer.

He can­not com­ment on the spe­cific mix used on the Red Hill, but said gen­er­ally that prob­lems, in­clud­ing with fric­tion, can arise if the ag­gre­gates used in a mix are not good qual­ity.

Other de­sign is­sues on the road can im­pact fric­tion, such as im­proper drainage that makes wa­ter pool on a road. Tire qual­ity and not quickly clear­ing snow or ice are other fac­tors that have noth­ing to do with the pave­ment but af­fect fric­tion, he said.

Stone mas­tic as­phalt con­tin­ues to be used on the high­est-vol­ume stretches of 400-se­ries high­ways, with dif­fer­ent su­per­pave mixes be­ing used on lower-vol­ume parts of the high­ways, said Min­istry of Trans­porta­tion spokesper­son Bob Ni­chols.

The 2015 engi­neer­ing re­port on the RHVP stud­ied crashes on the road be­tween Jan­uary 2008 and July 2015, in­clud­ing 131 “me­dian-re­lated col­li­sions,” 17 of which were cross­over col­li­sions. More than half of these crashes hap­pened when the road was wet.

Study­ing bar­ri­ers and end-to-end light­ing re­main on the longer-term road safety im­prove­ment list for the park­ways.

Mayor Fred Eisen­berger de­clined to com­ment on this story.

How­ever, Merulla said it would be “ir­re­spon­si­ble” to rush to put up bar­ri­ers sim­ply as a pub­lic re­la­tions ex­er­cise.

He be­lieves there is po­lit­i­cal will to study whether bar­ri­ers are a good idea at some point but doesn’t know if they’ll ever be in­stalled.

Staff are “work­ing dili­gently” to make the road safe, Merulla said.

“I’m con­fi­dent from an engi­neer­ing and in­fra­struc­ture stand­point that we’ve done all that is hu­manly pos­si­ble.”

Up­com­ing up­dates also in­clude adding re­cessed re­flec­tive mark­ers (cat’s eyes), and to the rest of the RHVP, in­stalling per­ma­nent pave­ment mark­ings (plas­tic in­stead of paint) and mod­i­fy­ing the Mud Street/Up­per Red Hill Park­way/ Stone Church exit to a sin­gle lane.

This will hap­pen at the same time as repaving.

This year, the city be­gan shar­ing in­for­ma­tion with po­lice from data col­lected at over­passes about where speed­ing hap­pens most fre­quently, so the ser­vice can tar­get en­force­ment. They are also study­ing whether speed lim­its should be low­ered.

Merulla raised the is­sue again dur­ing a com­mit­tee meet­ing this week, say­ing the speed limit on the RHVP should be re­duced to 80 km/h.

He’s also asked the prov­ince to al­low the city to make the road­way a des­ig­nated com­mu­nity safety zone, so the city can in­stall photo radar.

“I keep get­ting asked is the (Linc and RHVP) safe and my an­swer al­ways is, if you drive it prop­erly,” White said.

Ev­ery new death, in­clud­ing two cross­over crashes that killed two young men on the Red Hill in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary of this year, brings a new wave of frus­tra­tion and grief.

Hen­der­son and Maras­sato say it brings them back to that mo­ment they knew their girls were gone. They know the unique hor­ror the fam­i­lies will face.

“It’s a club you don’t want to be in,” Maras­sato said. There is no clear path out of grief. Maras­sato had a friend drive her to the scene the morn­ing of the crash. Hen­der­son couldn’t face the road for two months. Both moms say they are torn with want­ing to pro­tect the chil­dren they have left, but also un­der­stand­ing they can’t keep them in a bub­ble.

It’s hard to find clo­sure when they feel there is more the city could be do­ing, they said.

“Un­for­tu­nately, no one gets it un­til your child dies,” Maras­sato said.

“We have a prob­lem in our so­ci­ety with er­ratic and im­pul­sive driv­ers … rush­ing to get nowhere.” SAM MERULLA COUN­CIL­LOR, WARD 4

Tan­dra Hen­der­son, left, and Belinda Maras­sato stand near where their teenage daugh­ters, Jor­dyn Hast­ings and Olivia Smosarski, died.

The scene on the Red Hill Val­ley Park­way the night of the fa­tal crash.

Olivia Smosarski and Jor­dyn Hast­ings died in a cross­over crash on the RHVP May 5, 2015.

JOHN RENNISON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Two mi­nor traf­fic ac­ci­dents snarled traf­fic on the Red Hill Val­ley Park­way at Mount Al­bion Road Thurs­day.

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