British Columbia

Commercial trucks banned from left lane on part of Coquihalla in new safety project

All commercial vehicles are restricted to the centre and right lanes on Snowshed Hill between Box Canyon and Zopkios beginning this week.

Pilot aimed at keeping lane clear for emergencies could be expanded across Interior, ministry says

A pileup at the Coquihalla’s Snowshed Hill between Box Canyon and Zopkios. The B.C. Ministry of Transportation is testing a new pilot project barring commercial vehicles from the far left lane in the area to better maintain traffic flow and plowing operations in poor weather. (B.C. Ministry of Transportation)

Commercial vehicles are being banned from the far left lanes on a section of the Coquihalla Highway this winter as part of a new provincial safety project.

All commercial vehicles are restricted to the centre and right lanes in both directions on Snowshed Hill, between Box Canyon and Zopkios, beginning this week.

The idea is to keep the far left lane clear for snowplows and emergency vehicles in the event of a crash, as well as to maintain general traffic flow if trucks slow down.

"The Coquihalla highway...travels through some incredibly challenging terrain and some incredibly challenging weather," said Mike Lorimer, executive director of the southern Interior for the Ministry of Transportation.

Lorimer says the ministry chose the area known as Snowshed Hill because it is the most challenging section for drivers.

"It's often where you're going from the rain of the Lower Mainland to the snow of the Interior, so you hit the steepest hill at the worst possible conditions," he said.

Lorimer says the intent is to see safer roads and shorter delays.

And he discourages truck drivers from breaking the new rule as a ticket carries a $121 price tag and will count as two penalty points on their licence.

Last winter, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation said 33 of 35 extended closures on the Coquihalla during last winter involved commercial vehicles. (B.C. Ministry of Transportation)

The ministry's Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement department also focuses a large part of its efforts in the area.

Bob Gilowski, spokesperson for VSA Highway Maintenance, said he thinks it's a good idea.

"Typically, in the past, we've seen our snowplow units being blocked when all three lanes going up Snowshed Hill are blocked by transports that cannot make it up … because of either road conditions or they've failed to put their chains on," Gilowski said Wednesday.

"If we can't provide snow removal services, snow keeps accumulating on the ground and that could become an issue. But also more so for the drivers that are using the Coquihalla Highway — it just blocks the highway and then nobody can get through."

A passenger vehicle and a commercial trailer both ended up in the ditch in this accident on the Coquihalla Highway in February. (Shane MacKichan)

VSA, based in Merritt, B.C., is one of several companies contracted to maintain provincial highways, including the Coquihalla.

The mountain pass links the Lower Mainland and the Interior. It sees extreme snowfall rates in the winter — sometimes more than 10 centimetres an hour.

In a release, the ministry said 94 per cent of extended closures across all of the Coquihalla last winter involved commercial vehicles.

It said the Snowshed Hill pilot could be extended across the Interior, if it proves successful.

Gilowski said it's imperative that drivers on the Coquihalla, Okanagan Connector or any winter road in the province leave extra time and maintain a slower speed so they can stay in control of their vehicle no matter how severe the conditions.

With files from Radio West

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