Too soon to tell if variable speed limits are working to reduce collisions

B.C. Ministry of Transportation says it’s working to improve highway safety through Three Valley Gap.

The variable speed corridor west of Revelstoke. Photo: Melissa Jameson/Revelstoke Mountaineer.

B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation says it’s too soon to tell if the digital variable speed limit signs installed along the Trans-Canada Highway west of Revelstoke are improving road safety and reducing collisions.

The Variable Speed Limit system (VSL) pilot program began in 2016. A transportation ministry spokesperson said the ministry currently does not have enough collision data to report on the overall benefits of the system. However, the ministry spokesperson said she has seen “good compliance”when the VSL signs are displaying a lower speed.

The goal of the variable speed limits is to improve driver safety during unfavourable weather conditions and reduce serious crashes in areas where weather patterns are prone to change quickly.

Transportation ministry staff monitor road and weather conditions and adjust the speed limit on a real-time basis. The ministry recently spent $2.3 million on nine Remote Avalanche Control Systems (RACS) at Three Valley Gap. The system sets off smaller avalanches to reduce the chance of larger, uncontrolled avalanches. The RACS allow technicians to conduct avalanche control remotely, 24 hours a day. The ministry said this means the length of closures lengths in the area will be reduced by about 50%.

The spokesperson said the ministry plans to install and test a new rock fall fence system at a select area of Three Valley Gap that can stand up to avalanches without compromising the effectiveness of four recently installed remote avalanche control systems. If successful, the system could then be expanded to other rock fall areas in the Three Valley Gap.

A timeline for constructing a test section of the proposed fencing is not yet available as the fencing is currently in the preliminary design phase. The spokesperson said the ministry needs to address technical issues before it will be in a better position to determine construction timelines. Once fencing is installed, it will be monitored over time to see how it performs with regards to rock fall and snow avalanche activity.

This winter season, MVI incidents on the stretch have resulted in two fatalities and many more serious injuries and closures. As reported in the Mountaineer, a Revelstoke resident’s vehicle was pummelled by falling debris at Three Valley Gap late last fall.