Blog Post #646 – Revamping Highway of Death

Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine

Alberta has set its sights on improving safety on the infamous Highway 63, otherwise known as the “Highway of Death,” that is claimed more than 100 lives since 2000.

Released on June 29, 2012, the report was drafted by Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Mike Allen, who was appointed by Premier Alison Redford as the Highway 63 advisor to Alberta’s Minister of Transportation, Rick McIver.

The report recommended expanding the highway, the only roadway option for workers travelling from Edmonton to Fort McMurray, into a four-lane highway and installing a physical barrier between the northbound and southbound lanes, which McIver says would mitigate risky driving, “A lot of the bad things that happen on the road are due to bad decisions,” he suggests. “The road will be twinned, and drivers won’t be passing in a lane where there is an opportunity for a head-on collision,” he adds.

Currently, the highway is a two-lane, undivided 240-kilometre expanse carrying 4,200 vehicles per day.

However, Wood Buffalo mayor Melissa Blake says the report leaves something to be desired. “It still didn’t define a timeline for completion, but it did identify how long it would’ve taken, which was completely unacceptable,” Blake says.

While Allen initially estimated completion would take 11 years, McIver says they can reduce that to less than eight years – if sufficient funds are available to complete the highway’s construction.

Safeguarding Highway 63 dates back to 2006, when the provincial government originally pledged to twin the highway – a project that came with an almost $1 billion price tag. “Alberta’s provincial government has set aside $450 million in the budget for the next three years of construction, but the remaining $550 million required to complete the project is yet to be seen,” McIver says.

Carol Christian, a communications advisor with the Oil Sands Development Group, a non—profit organization in Fort McMurray representing various oil sands operators and developers, frequently travels Highway 63. For Christian, a multiple-fatality collision on April 27, 2012, which sparked a public protest after the incident left seven dead and two injured, was the turning point. “You will see other motorists not being careful and they do participate in risky driving behaviour,” she says.

McIver says he expects the southern portion of the highway to be twinned in the next 2014 to 2015.

My opinion,

In July 2008, my wife and I travelled to visit my son and his family on that same highway. We travelled the Highway of Death after arriving on the redeye to Edmonton arriving at 1 am local time. I have never seen such a stretch of straight, flat and boring road in all my life. It was very difficult to stay awake during that time frame. I, jokingly, mentioned to Angela, this road was so straight and flat, a perfectly aligned vehicle could be placed in cruise control and the driver could comfortably lie in the back seat and fall asleep. I know this is an exaggeration but I have never seen a road in Ontario anywhere, including the flat land around London, Ontario, this difficult to stay awake on.

The only saving grace was that the highway is rated for 110 km/hour instead of the 100 standard that is used in Ontario. Mind you, it is still a 4 hour drive.

I would suggest the government of Alberta place highway stops placed strategically to give drivers a further option.

Unless you actually drive that route would the reader really understand the dangers of driving almost straight forward for such a long boring stretch of road.

Remember – In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Advanced Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.

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