After watching yet another accident at the intersection of Two Mile Hill and the Alaska Highway from his office window, George Balmer decided to do something.
So he wrote Highways and Public Works.
“A couple of us sat down and mapped out what was wrong with the intersection and sent them that letter in 2002,” said Balmer.
“Their response was so flippant it was unbelievable.”
“‘The issues you describe are more complicated than you can understand,’” said Balmer, quoting from the letter he received in reply.
“Obviously, we’re idiots.”
Balmer had suggested a minor adjustment of the two left-hand turn lanes on the Alaska Highway.
He suggested they be better aligned.
Currently, a blind spot exists when motorists try to turn left off the Alaska Highway.
This is especially bad when large vehicles are sitting in the opposing turn lane — they block any view of oncoming traffic.
And vehicles going straight through can’t see those attempting a left turn.
“The correction here is simple,” said Balmer.
Highways could tear up the median and move both turning lanes three metres to the left, greatly diminishing the blind spot.
“There is room for the change, and the cost would be minor,” he said.
Balmer is the first to admit that he is not an engineer – he’s an enforcement officer whose office just happens to overlook the intersection.
However, a road-safety engineering specialist hired by Highways to do an audit on this stretch of road recommended the exact same change.
“The most problematic and distinct safety problem is the collisions involving left-turning vehicles … colliding with the opposing through vehicles,” the consultant wrote in a 34-page report.
“The sight-distance behind the opposing left-turning vehicle can be severely constrained, especially if the opposing vehicle is a large commercial vehicle.”
The September 2006 report, which cost $25,000, recommended cutting into the existing medians to realign the turning lanes.
This is the same solution that Balmer suggested four years earlier.
“We are looking into safety improvements at that intersection,” said Highway’s director of transport engineering Robin Walsh.
“At present, we’re working on more of the details of the design and what the costs of that might be.”
But changing the alignment of the turning lane is not likely to solve the problem, said Walsh.
The report cites the major contributing factor of accidents as a failure to yield right of way — impatient drivers trying to push yellow lights.
“There were a number of other recommendations that the consultant made as well, which we’re also looking at in terms of their practicality and how realistic they might be.”
These recommendations were reducing the size of the intersection, changing the signaling phases, or the use of high-friction pavement treatments.
“Some of the recommendations are really impractical to do, but we’re looking into making all left turns protected left turns,” said Walsh.
Highways hopes to have a design ready to go by the end of the fiscal year, he said.
But it depends on funding.
While the frequency of collisions at the intersection is higher than normal, the severity of the accidents is lower, said the report.
In Balmer’s opinion the severity of the collisions is high enough.
“I’ve driven through that intersection and seen dead people lying on the road and it’s just wrong,” he said.
Within a six-year period beginning January of 2000, two people have died, 16 people have been injured and 21 other accidents occurred where only the vehicles were damaged.
“I go through this intersection at least twice a day,” said Balmer.
“It’s frightening. You probably see an accident every second or third week.”
Last week another accident occurred at the intersection and, watching from his office window as emergency personnel removed the injured, Balmer decided to write another letter.
“After you get shot down and humiliated the first time, you feel like you might as well give up,” he said.
“So this time I’m going the public route.”
See related letter.