Times Colonist

Increasing safety on the Malahat

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The Malahat’s dangers can’t be eliminated, at least not without great cost and controvers­y. But the road’s safety could be increased with simple and inexpensiv­e measures suggested in a provincial government report four years ago. The cause of the terrible weekend crash that claimed the life of a motorcycli­st hasn’t been determined. Police have suggested a medical condition might have caused a car driver to veer into oncoming traffic.

But the children of Colin Grant, the man killed, and rescue personnel have called for road improvemen­ts to help prevent such deaths in future.

The Malahat poses special risks. The roadway is winding and narrow, with rock walls and steep drops only metres from drivers. Uncontroll­ed roads and driveways mean traffic is frequently slowing and drivers are making left turns across a busy highway. Volumes are heavy, and increasing. And users include both daily commuters and truck drivers, familiar with the road and in a hurry, and tourists and occasional users inclined to be more cautious.

Drivers are navigating difficult conditions, at speed, on an undivided highway, so crashes can be devastatin­g.

A 2007 report concluded that the major investment — in the hundreds of millions of dollars — required to widen and realign some sections of the Malahat was not economical­ly justified. It did warn of increasing congestion, as peak use was forecast to rise to 2,500 vehicles per hour by 2026 — far above the road’s 1,400-vehicle capacity.

It suggested short- to medium-term improvemen­ts to improve safety and reliabilit­y. Improved lane markings, additional passing and turning lanes and increased RCMP enforcemen­t would all help, the report found. Indeed, an enforcemen­t effort this summer — which has ended — did appear effective.

And the report — like Colin Grant’s family and Malahat Fire Chief Rob Patterson — said concrete barriers between the lanes of oncoming traffic could save lives.

Those measures wouldn’t be costly, and the government has spent less than $10 million on making the Malahat safer since 2001 — a period in which 14 people have died on the road.

The weekend crash did show improvemen­ts in the Transport Ministry’s communicat­ion about the length and impact of the road closure. A report following last spring’s crash of a gas truck in the Goldstream area found a series of failures and breakdowns in responding to the disaster and informing the public.

The response to this crash should also be reviewed, particular­ly in terms of the six hours it took to investigat­e and re-open the road and the co-ordination of the various agencies involved.

The Malahat’s dangers can’t be eliminated. They can be reduced, and increased enforcemen­t and more dividing barriers in higher-risk areas would be a good start.

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