Agencies prepare for safe highway closures 0
Crowsnest Pass residents know the kind of weather Mother Nature can throw at them. They know the combination of wind and snow that sometimes makes driving a hazardous endeavor and that sometimes it necessitates road closures.
Last January icy roads and blowing snow forced the closure of Highway 3 for two nights as temperatures dipped down to -40 degrees. Truckers and travelers scrambled to find places to park and bed down for the night. Many people opened their homes and accommodation outlets quickly filled up.
What could have been a nightmare, turned out to be fairly positive, according to agencies responsible for road closures.
Now the municipality and Crowsnest Pass RCMP are looking at restructuring the procedure to ensure an even smoother operation.
Sergeant Keith Bott said a structured procedure is already in place with Alberta Transportation and Volker Stevin, but the reorganization of municipal departments will make it even smoother.
Currently representatives from Volker Stevin and Alberta Transportation cooperate on road closures with RCMP.
Alberta Transportation, Maintenance Contract Inspector Rick Lemire said the Crowsnest Pass section of Highway 3 is one of the most frequently closed highways in the province.
Usually they'll have a bit of advance warning, he said, and a Transportation employee or contractor will verify conditions. They work closely with counterparts in B.C. and a protocol is followed and reviewed every year with all agencies on both sides of the border, he said.
Alberta Transportation's communications department works with Alberta Motor Association, the media, Teck mines, and weigh scales to let truckers, buses and motorists know about closures.
The highway arm at Volker Stevin's lot in west end of the municipality is strategically placed so truckers can turn around, said Lemire. This gives them the opportunity to go back to where there are services such as gas and lodging.
Sgt. Bott said during the January event, Interim Manager, Enforcement Services Donna Tona was responsible for much of the smooth operation.
"[Tona] really took the bull by the horns and organized the truckers so there was no congestion and mayhem," said Bott. "She kept them in an orderly fashion, ensuring they knew where to stay and park."
Many trucks parked at the Coleman Sports Complex and trucks with hazardous materials were kept out of town at the Burmis weigh scales.
Now that the municipality has consolidated fire and rescue into one department, future protocol will have the municipal fire chief assume command of the event. Fire teams will man the roadblock and give information to motorists directing them back to Blairmore for services and food.
"Instead of just dropping the arm and letting mayhem happen, traffic would be directed into some semblance of order," said Bott. "We'll also set up areas where vehicles can park so there's no random parking."
Tona said road closures are an evolving problem that happen fast so Protective & Enforcement Services work quickly to relieve traffic congestion, pulling drivers off the highway and redirecting hazardous materials out of town. She said they also work closely with trucking dispatchers especially those hauling livestock.
The next step to take in establishing future protocol, said Bott, is to set up a place travelers can go with volunteers to assist.
"It's important to be prepared when driving in winter, but we can't turn our backs on people," said Bott. "We have an obligation because of our location on this highway, that when it gets closed, to show courtesy and respect, to help folks out and at least make their stay comfortable."
Tona agreed and said the January road closure was one of the most successful in the province and RCMP were crucial to how well it was handled.
"It showed that the municipality cared," she said. "People will want to come back when they're treated well."