Prescott mayor wants 'clarity' around truck rules after fatal Hwy. 401 pile-up

The mayor of a town just off Highway 401 says he wants clarity from the province as to when large trucks carrying hazardous materials should be pulled off the roads — two weeks after a massive pile-up on the highway killed one person.

Brett Todd, the mayor of Prescott, Ont., says he wants to "shore things up" with Ontario's Ministry of Transportation (MTO) and that at a council meeting earlier this week he "mused about the possibility" of a ban on trucks carrying toxic substances during major storms. 

"We have had close calls in the past in Prescott. We had a train derailment about 10 years ago that fortunately involved some empty tankers," Todd told CBC News on Thursday.

"It is a real concern here, because we are so close to the 401."

Crash caused toxic spill

The driver of a tractor-trailer died following the massive, 30-vehicle crash on Highway 401 on March 14 near Mallorytown, Ont., about 45 kilometres southwest of Prescott.

The late winter pileup closed the highway in both directions for more than a day, stranding motorists at the nearby rest stop and forcing some people to contemplate traveling through the U.S. to reach their destination.

A hazardous materials unit was also called in because some of the tractor-trailers involved in the crash were carrying caustic materials later identified as fluorosilicic acid — a chemical that can cause irritation to the throat, eyes and respiratory system.

The Ministry of the Environment was notified about the chemical spill, and cleanup crews were called in to "remediate" the area, the Township of Leeds and Grenville said at the time.

The crash occurred in what police described as "near whiteout" conditions. Most of the vehicles involved were tractor-trailers.

Don't want similar incident

Todd said he'd had early discussions with Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark and would be making a request for a meeting with MTO officials for clarity around the existing regulations "in the very near future."

He said he's also concerned about an incident happening on the emergency detour route that runs straight through Prescott and nearby Brockville, Ont..

Tractor-trailers are able to use the route when Highway 401 is closed, Todd said.

"We obviously don't want to have a Mallorytown incident right here on the 401, right outside Prescott," Todd said.

"Or — even worse — have something happen after the trucks have been detoured to [downtown] Prescott."

Changes to rules 'premature'

In an email to CBC News, MTO spokesman Bob Nichols said that while there are "no specific regulations regarding travel during inclement weather," trucks carrying dangerous goods must always meet a series of "very strict" safety requirements.

He said it would be "premature" to speculate on whether, in the wake of the March 14 collision, regulatory changes might be on the way.

"As with all serious incidents on our highways, we'll await the final police report and then review it to see if there are any practical changes we should consider," Nichols said.