Three Valley Gap: What Will It Take To Be Heard??

The Trans Canada Highway is a mess. Trying to find a lighthearted spin on discussing the highway is quite simply- not realistic. The highway has remained the same since its inception in the 1960s and very little has been upgraded  between Sicamous and Golden despite huge growth in the B.C. Interior and Columbia-Shuswap.

What will it take for our leaders to realize that human life is valued in the small markets just as much as it is in a major market? Perhaps more death will do the trick.

The communities of Revelstoke, Golden, Sicamous, Malakwa, and Cambie should be fueled with frustration. How many people in this community have to drive that road for work on a daily basis, leaving their family members at home (or at work) and wonder if they will make it through the pass safely? With the daily highway grind, that can cause a lot of stress for someone trying to focus on work, while they wonder if their significant other is alive.

When highway reports come in, I receive text or messages from locals asking me “Is it anyone we know?” That is where we are at. We have become accustomed to a reality of death on the highway, and while we are compassionate human beings and feel for those that lose their lives, we wait with bated breath in hopes that when the name is released, it is not someone from our community.

Photo courtesy of
Shannon Smith.

With the array of media coverage, Shannon Smith’s horrific story is well known. Shannon has made it a point to make some noise about her accident and despite a local MLA that doesn’t mind barking, the message does not seem to hit home. Several deaths have occurred this winter season and yet very little has come out of the Transportation Department.

Mayor Mark McKee issued a letter to the Transportation Minister, Clair Trevena and a response was received on January 30th, that indicated that the Ministry intends to install and test a new rock fall system at a specific location in Three Valley Gap. This is a step in the right direction, however the issue is it can only be in a specific area because of the power of the falling avalanches that occur.

In the letter issued to Mayor McKee, Trevena stated “While the ministry has identified the Three Valley Gap area for further rock fall mitigation, typical rock fall fences cannot survive the heavy snow loads and significant snow avalanche activity that occurs at this unique area during the winter months. For these reasons, the ministry is investigating designs to develop a new type of rock fall fence system that would minimize the risk of damage caused by snow and snow avalanche activity without compromising the effectiveness of our remote avalanche control system.”

Although this is a baby step in the right direction, many issues arrive because of the Highway that cause our community to stall. The francophone school Ecole de Glacier frequently has one if not both of their buses (that are parked just outside of town) stuck behind an accident on a regular basis, holding up students from getting to school on time. The trickle down affect that can occur after a highway closure can hurt businesses and dent the economic growth.

Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA, Doug Clovechok is outraged at the lack of both compassion and follow through when it comes to the Trans- Canada Highway. “I spoke with (Mayor) Mark (McKee) about the response your community was given about the Three Valley Gap area. I agree with your Mayor, how many people have to die on this highway before they listen? Enough is enough. I am meeting with the opposition leader hold the NDP accountable for promises made. We are talking about peoples lives. The letter that was sent from the Transportation Minister was offensive.”

Minister Trevena reminded McKee in the letter that they recently implemented the remote avalanche system to help alleviate road closures. “Safety in Three Valley Gap is a priority for the ministry. As you most likely know, we have recently expanded our avalanche reduction program in the area by installing nine new Remote Avalanche Control Stations for this avalanche season.”

From the Hansard Premiere’s debate reports, a discussion between Clovechok and Premiere John Horgan took place about this specific area of highway. Clovechok brought up the letter written by Shannon Smith about her accident and questioned Horgan on when action will be taking place.

“Our responsibility as legislators and as a provincial government is to look at every corner of the province. The Highway 1 corridor through the member’s constituency, from Kamloops to the border, strikes me as an area where, year after year, there is serious potential loss of life through avalanche, through a host of other issues — treacherous driving conditions unparalleled in British Columbia, I would argue. I know the member would agree with me.

When we put together our platform, we made a concerted effort to say that we were going to take the initiatives that previous governments have done, going back to the Social Credit governments and the New Democrat governments and the Liberal governments of the early part of the century, this century, to make sure that we accelerated developments, enhancements and safety improvements in that corridor through your constituency. I can only say to the mayor, who’s watching, to you and to other members that it’s a personal commitment from me that we’re going to do that.”

With the budget process not yet complete, Horgan could not commit to a timeline of 2019 which is what Clovechok requested.

“I can, again, reiterate that we have already issued one tender in his community, and that, I hope, would give some comfort to him and to his constituents that the new government is quite committed to making sure that we continue to invest in Highway 1 through Revelstoke to the Alberta border.” Horgan stated.

The Remote Avalanche Control Stations were added to the maintenance routine prior to the first snowfall of 2016 during the previous Minster Todd Stone’s regime. Two years has passed since, and while avalanche control does alleviate the risk of a monstrous avalanche landing in the pass, accidents are occurring on a regular basis despite the constant and steady effort from Emcon to keep the highway clear and safe.

Division Manager for the local Emcon Services told the Revelstoke Current, “This fencing is one small piece of a very big problem. I am not certain where they plan to place it, I am certain it will help and limit the frequency but it certainly won’t stop it from falling.”

Thur went on to state that this has been an extremely busy year for Emcon. This has been a busy year in terms of highway clean up, very similar to the snowfalls from years back.


Photo by Brett Renaud.

With the massive snow fall as of late, it is getting harder and harder to not only find parking, but to get around safely. The huge snowbanks are causing line of sight issues. As seen in this picture, the snow is packed up so high, it forces the car to creep ever so slightly to see if another vehicle is coming.

“How long will it be before a small car sticks out of Highway 23 North to go West onto TCH and gets creamed by a semi?” Brett Renaud questions.

An accident like this is very possible in the current conditions raising the risk of death and a massive log jam on the highway.

Mayor Mark McKee is disjointed with how the Highway closures have affected the community.

“The past few weeks have seen an unusually high snowfall that has precipitated numerous road closures for both avalanche control as well as highway accidents, which some unfortunately resulted in fatalities. Revelstoke is well known for adverse conditions which can make Highway maintenance difficult at the best of times and almost impossible at its worst. There have been meetings in the past on how best to manage traffic during extended highway closure events. These meetings also discussed the importance of managing traffic after a highway is reopened.  This week there have been several closures, one that saw highway traffic gridlock this community making it impossible for people to get to work, medical appointments or whatever they were planning for the day. This is unacceptable and shows a complete disregard for this community, and the travelling public. It would have been extremely difficult if not impossible for any emergency vehicle to attend any kind of emergency to a large section of our community.

This is why we have a management plan in place, but for the plan to work the city needs to be informed and MOTI has to implement the plan. I do not know what needs to change, but what is supposed to be in place is not working, and this community is suffering because of it. How many more times do we have to go through this before something is done? We are lucky a major emergency did not happen that necessary services were required but were unable to attend. When it comes to community safety and security I think we can all agree that it shouldn’t be left to luck. The plan needs to be reviewed by all stakeholders, including the City and emergency services, improved if necessary, but communication and ensuring all parties are able to complete their tasks in a timely manner is critical to minimizing the impact that these closures have on the residents of Revelstoke.”

The Revelstoke Current reached out to Ron Sharp the District Transportation Manager from the Rocky Mountain District. In the letter to McKee, Travena indicated Sharp was the individual to contact for further comments.

Sharp did not return the call by the deadline.