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COMMENTARY · 5th February 2011
Merv Ritchie
Edited Feb 5, 2 pm
Rather than being an unusual and unforeseen tragedy, this accident last night on Highway 16 where a Greyhound Bus with passengers collided with a large piece of falling ice, was entirely expected. Ice had been falling throughout the day and the build up of ice was observed by drivers going to and from Prince Rupert.

See pictures and story on the Greyhound Bus accident HERE.

It is also a situation which has for many years presented itself as a danger to all drivers.

Near an area called “Carwash Rock” by the local population due to the fact during all times of the year water falls off the cliffs onto passing vehicles, this corner, in the spectacular drive between Terrace and Prince Rupert, is a feature attraction. It is by no means an unusual or unknown hazard during the winter.

As the previous article, Open Letter to Kevin Falcon, demonstrates, the highway maintenance in the Northwest corner of BC is deplorable. The highways in this region experience dramatic weather changes not found anywhere in British Columbia. Extremes both high and low can be found on any given day. The drive between Terrace and either Kitimat or Prince Rupert moves between Coastal temperate rain forest to an coastal interior climate where the temperature, moisture and visibility offers the highways maintenance contractor a full range of experiential opportunities.

The experience in the lower mainland and the Interior regions of British Columbia in regards the maintenance of the highways during the winter months has proven to be managed fairly well by periodic patrols determined by weather reports issued by the Province and Environment Canada. This practice, employed by the Maintenance Contractors here in the northwest, and sanctioned by the Ministry of Highways, has cost the province millions of dollars in damages and clean ups from serious and deadly accidents, and more importantly, has cost the region many treasured lives.

Rather than a periodic drive with a pick up truck to patrol highway 16 and 37, these highways require a regular patrol by a truck fully equipped with men and signage to manage any hazard they might encounter. This was the method of highways maintenance before the government of Bill Vanderzalm, which privatized the enter highways maintenance operation.

If this had been the standard operations model today crews would have been out, likely stationed at the site ensuring the travelling publics safety. Today this is considered an unnecessary expense.

Today, all highways maintenance contractors are “For Profit” operations. This means they must, as a condition of being a private corporation, maximize the returns for the shareholders. To accomplish this they must not perform any more extra duties than those which are specifically required by the contractual obligations set by the Provincial Government when they signed the agreement. This means it is up to the Government, not the contractor, to set the rules and the obligations.

The provincial government and the successive highways ministers have failed this region and they have failed with the full knowledge of the hazards. Numerous letters and presentations have been made and numerous people have died. It is a tragedy to be sure but it is a completely foreseeable one.

Today those who have been outraged for years are hoping this, being a Greyhound Bus accident, will bring more media attention and change the game, ensuring the highways receive the proper attention they deserve, not the mediocre, haphazard, lackadaisical, profiteering manner they have been.

We are lucky no one died as a result of this completely foreseeable incident. Had cars or trucks been travelling from the other direction, had there been more than just the two, had there been a fuel truck, the tragedy could have made international news. Why the various highways ministers make stops for a media photo opportunity and then disappear again is something all citizens should be asking themselves.

Below is a copy of some of the the text of a letter sent, regarding this highly predictable hazard, to then Highways Minister Kevin Falcon. The entire letter, sent March 30, 2007, is attached below. No one can claim they didn't know.

4. “Car Wash Rock” Early 2007
Unfortunately I do not have the exact date of this incident but in this case I phoned
the Highway’s office in Terrace shortly after and made complaint of the matter to Mr. Larry Proto of the Highways department. Mr. Proto will likely have recorded the date of my telephone call to him.

There is a restriction with an overhanging rock face on the highway between Prince Rupert and Terrace that is commonly referred to as “car wash rock” due to the water that commonly falls from the rock face onto vehicles driving west to Prince Rupert. This winter I was driving towards Prince Rupert following a days skiing at Shames Mountain when a chunk of ice measuring approximately 30 cm by 30 cm by 15 cm fell from this rock face and came within a few centimeters of hitting my vehicle and of possibly smashing into my windshield directly in front of where I was sitting. The incident happened so quickly there was no time at all to react to it and I can only count my blessings that I did not enter the restriction about one quarter of a second sooner than I had.

When I phoned and made complaint to the Highways department, I was told that about 10 days earlier a chunk of ice had fallen from the same rock face and had hit a transport truck, destroying the vehicle’s engine in the collision. I also recall when a person was killed when a chunk of ice fell from this rock face through the windshield of his vehicle. Perhaps such incidents are considered to be within the scope of the hazards to be expected when driving highway 16, but combined with the other matters to which I am referring, it seems driving this highway has now become like playing “Russian Roulette”.
Highways Maintenance deplorable
Comment by C Power on 6th February 2011
We have made 2 trips out of Terrace in snowfalls in the past year. The first on was to Prince Rupert last winter. We left Terrace at 2 in the afternoon. There was a couple inches of snow on the road at that time. We never met a snowplow or even a highways pickup truck the whole way to Prince Rupert even though it was warm enough that salt and sand would have worked. On our way back at 6:30pm it wasn't until about 5kms the other side of Kasiks that we finally met a plow. We were pushing snow with our bumper by that time and there were vehicles in the ditch. We stopped at Kasiks to wait for the plow to come back. There was another snowplow parked in behind the buildings and a grader as well. When the snowplow got back and was filling up the truck with sand, the grader pulled out onto the highway and started plowing its way into Terrace. Then the snowplow followed it all the way in at about 20kms an hour. It was good winter driving once the road was plowed. What is wrong with that picture? The guy in the grader should have been in the other plow truck from the very start doing the other direction opposite the other plow. I know that the grader operator usually gets paid more so that is the only reason I can see why the grader was being run. We finally got home at 10:30 pm.

The last trip out was the same only heading east. Slush piled up in the middle pulling the vehicle around and no salt or sand. It was after 8am in the morning. The condition changed about 35 kms east of Terrace and the road condition was great. No difference in temperature or snow condition, just another maintenance area.

If we have a single vehicle accident driving in a snow storm we have to pay our deductable and our insurance rates rise. Are we not to expect a certain level of preformance from our road maintenance companies? Who checks to make sure they are doing a competant job? After working for many years in the autobody industry with ICBC checking our perfrmance I can tell you that if anyone was checking work the maintenance companies do, our roads would be in better shape. In the autobody industry, if you don't comply, you are not in business long. By the way, I am relatively new to Terrace, so I have seen other highways in BC, and I can tell you I don't feel that we are being looked after the way other areas are. We should expect more!
Facts and the reality clarified
Comment by Merv Ritchie on 6th February 2011
Just as the Ministry closes the highway to ensure avalanches don't come down unexpectedly, the ministry should ensure ice doesn't kill drivers unexpectedly. Yes, no one can be sure just what highway conditions might be encountered. This is exactly why patrols are required. Not simply a pick up once evey other day.

The build up of, and the falling of, ice at this location (all down the highway in this very particular area, not just carwash) was observed by the travelling public and local delivery drivers. The attached pictures were from previous years, sorry didn't have one of the actual spot.

Just like the bridge falling down crushing cars in Quebec, the falling concrete (ice in this case) was a sign.

This was a highly predictable occurance.

The ice was cleared today. To bad it took such an accident.

Why is it called a rant when it is factual information delivered in hard detail, not covered or couched in platitudes.

Stand up for yourself and your families. they may die in another foreseeable situation tomorrow. You wont act and talk so flipantly then.
now James
Comment by steve smyth on 5th February 2011
dont let facts get in the way of a good rant
Not Entirely True
Comment by James Ippel on 5th February 2011
The place that the Greyhound bus was hit by ice was not the place commonly called "Carwash Rock"
This rock is about 8km east of Exchamsiks. The collision between Bus and Ice is approximately 1km west of Exchamiks.
Much work has been done at CarWash Rock to prevent ice falling on the highway. and to the credit of Highways, have been pretty darn successful.
The major problems encountered by the Highways Dept. are the constant freeze/thaw cycles encountered in this area. No one can accurately predict cycles, as they may change in a matter of hours. If there was a method to divert the water from coming down the rock face, and down the east/west sides instead, the Dept. would be one step up.
I also recall when a person was killed at Carwash Rock. Much has been done to make travel safer, and to suggest that such incidents are considered to be within the scope of the hazards to be expected while driving Hiway 16 is a bit off the wall.
The pictures appear to be those of Carwash Rock, but not depict where the Bus/Ice collision occured.