At the TNRD’s last board meeting of the year, former RadioNL host Bob Price made a presentation on behalf of Bruce Chernoff, owner of Stump Lake Ranch, and area residents regarding commercial truck traffic on Hwy 5A.
Price asked the TNRD board to show its support for a ban of commercial heavy truck traffic on Hwy 5A.
This is not a new plea by residents along the old thoroughfare between Merritt and Kamloops. Back in 2013, former long-time Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Kevin Krueger took a petition to the BC Legislature requesting that commercial trucks be banned from the route, following a deadly accident.
“We have come down this path before,” said Price, alluding to this petition, which the TNRD board at the time supported.
However, a report from the Transportation of Ministry and Infrastructure concluded then that such an action was not necessary.
According to Price, in 2013 17% of all crashes on Hwy 5A involved commercial vehicles, which was just under one in five. Despite numerous improvements to the road and additional enforcement measures, accidents were up an additional 9% in 2018. During that year 26% of all crashes on Hwy 5A involved commercial transport trucks, or just over one in four.
“Frankly, the reasons are obvious,” said Price.
“Careless, reckless driving by too many of our truckers unfamiliar with a winding highway with no shoulders and poor sightlines. It’s a recipe for disaster and those disasters sadly happen all too often.”
Several letters of support were presented to the TNRD board by those who claimed to have had many near accidents with commercial trucks, and witnessed numerous egregious road safety violations by those same commercial drivers.
“As I drove to the office to write this email, I counted nine trucks that went by me between the forestry building and the home ranch - that’s a five-kilometre distance,” said John Parkes of Nicola Ranch in his letter.
“Highway 5A is a dangerous highway because of commercial traffic. Every time an ambulance goes by, I look at the time. I look at the time because I’m thinking when the school bus comes back and forth from town. My sons are on that bus.”
Chief of the Upper Nicola Band, Harvey McLeod, also supports limiting truck traffic on Hwy 5A.
“We supported others that wanted Provincial intervention to review and stop semi and other commercial trucks from using Highway 5A,” said McLeod.
“The road was not designed for this amount of truck traffic. That was our opinion and we still stand by that. Yes, over the years there were road improvements made between Merritt and Kamloops. All good, but this did not stop or give our citizens the satisfaction that travelling on that highway was safe.”
Lori Brewer, a Douglas Lake Ranch employee who has lived in the area for her entire life, and whose daughter snapped a photo of one commercial transport truck passing another in a tight corner on a double solid line, believes the improvements have in some cases been “more of a hinderance than an aid”. Reflectors on the side of the road, she believes, make it more difficult to see wildlife, and that because the ditches are not mowed it is even harder to see deer, who frequently cross the road in herds. A smaller vehicle, she said in her letter, has a much better chance of avoiding a collision with animals than a semi-truck.
Price also alleges that the road itself was not designed to handle the weight of today’s trucks, and that annual maintenance costs are “extremely high” due to the wear and tear of commercial traffic.
There have also been concerns about environmental impacts, as Price explained that Hwy 5A winds its way through “pristine grasslands and along the shores of vital waterways, which suffer irreparable damage when a crashed semi spills its fuel or worse.”
“The question is why are truckers using this route 5A, when a far safer highway running absolutely parallel to 5A is right there, available, and was in fact built for transport traffic?” said Price.
“A lot of people at first, think that they’re trying to avoid the weigh scales, but that’s not what we found out in our research, and our research has been (over) several months. Instead, what the truckers are trying to do is simply cut costs.”
This research, according to Price, revealed that commercial truck drivers are attempting to avoid steeper grades, save fuel, and reduce wear and tear on their vehicles.
“We get that, but at what price?” Price asked.
“Surely a human life has to be worth more than any amount of diesel fuel or brake maintenance.”
Several TNRD directors voiced their support for the initiative, but there were others, including the Mayor of Merritt, Linda Brown, who questioned whether this would be an ideal solution.
“I drive the Coquihalla quite often and, in my opinion, there are as many accidents and silly stuff happening with trucks on the Coquihalla, perhaps as much as there are on 5A,” said Brown.
“I also drive, what I call the bottom road, 5A, a lot. But, mainly when I get scared of driving the Coquihalla I take the 5A road. There are trucks, but I don’t find it a problem for me with some of the trucks than I do on the Coquihalla. I agree with your issues, there are issues with truck traffic, I just don’t know that your solution is the right one for me. I recognize that there are accidents on 5A, but there are accidents on the Coquihalla as well.”
The matter of Hwy 5A truck traffic was referred to the next regular TNRD Board of Directors meeting on Jan. 14, 2021, where it will be decided whether or not the TNRD will support a ban or not.
Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald