Municipalities urge MTO to revamp road rules after fatal pileup, chemical spill

Municipalities along Highway 401 in eastern Ontario are calling on the province to update its road safety rules in the wake of a massive pileup last month that left a truck driver dead and caused a dangerous chemical spill.

The pileup between Brockville and Kingston on March 14 involved 30 vehicles and shut the major highway for more than a day after fluorosilicic acid spilled from tractor-trailers.

The Kingston General Hospital treated 29 patients after the crash and spill.

Last week Prescott Mayor Brett Todd said he planned to talk to the province's transportation ministry about setting limits on the movement of hazardous materials through his jurisdiction.

Now mayors from nearby municipalities are joining him.

Storm ban

This week Front of Yonge Township, which includes Mallorytown, Ont., passed a motion asking the provincial and federal transportation ministers to ban the transport of hazardous material on Ontario's roads during extreme weather.

"[The truck drivers] are professionals and they know their job well, but at the same time accidents happen and we can't have this happen again," said Mayor Roger Haley on Thursday.

Haley pointed to New York, which has passed similar rules giving that state's governor the power to ban tractor-trailers from highways during storms. Indeed, such a ban was in place on some upstate highways at the time of the Highway 401 crash.

Lower limits

The municipality of Leeds and the Thousand Islands is poised to pass a motion of its own that calls on the province to lower speed limits on the province's 400-series highways during severe weather, according to mayor Joe Baptista.

"Most of us who drive the 400-series highways on a regular basis, we see the amount of traffic and unfortunately we do see in some cases the truck traffic simply doesn't slow down when the weather situation changes," he said Thursday. "Speed will cause these accidents and we have to deal with this."

Baptista said he'd leave the decision on how low speeds should go during bad weather up to the ministry. Leeds Grenville council is set to debate a similar motion at the end of the month, he added.

More lanes

Brockville mayor David Henderson believes there's a strong argument to be made for widening Highway 401 to three lanes in each direction from Kingston to the Quebec border, currently two lanes in each direction.

"That may be part of the solution because right now with the speed inhibitors on the large trucks on the 401, it means that you have huge backups when trucks are passing trucks," he said.

"That backup can lead to frustration, and when you add bad weather to it [you get] frustrated drivers, large backups and bad weather. It's part of the problem."

Henderson said he'd like the shipping industry to be at the table to talk about any proposed measures that might affect them.

The Ministry of Transportation maintains the province has strict safety rules for trucks carrying dangerous goods, but none dealing specifically with transporting those goods in challenging weather conditions.

A spokesperson said the MTO will wait for the final police report into last month's crash before considering any changes to traffic rules.