Like many residents of Conception Bay North, I am also shocked and very disheartened by recent tragedies on the Veteran's Memorial Highway (VMH).
Having recently lost my only son to a Manitoba highway accident, my heart goes out to all those remaining loved ones who, for the rest of their lives, will bear the pain of their incomprehensible loss.
The VMH is a godsend to this area. Without it, the only other viable alternate route would be to revert to Roaches Line, which would have proven over time to be extremely more dangerous and costly.
The VMH is an excellent Class 1 two-lane highway. I fully agree with the sentiments expressed recently by the RCMP Accident Analyst. There is no design or existing flaw that would warrant the current level of accidents. The standard of engineering and construction of that roadway is as good as any other of its kind, anywhere, considering the tough challenges presented by our topography, soil and subsoil conditions, and weather.
In the process of highway planning and engineering a common understanding is that the higher the standard of construction of a highway, the lower its accident rate. An example of that is the Trans-Canada Highway.
Those motorists who drive the TCH every day, say, to and from St. John's, will notice that it is built to a higher standard than VMH. While driving lanes are identical in width (12.5 feet), the TCH provides wider shoulders, larger cleared rights of way, gentler gradients, larger radius turns and, in most cases, a longer sight line of traffic ahead and behind.
Of course the major difference between the two highways is the dividing median, which separates opposing traffic. It is the cumulative effect of these features that places the TCH into a much higher safety category than the VMH.
Considering the wide variety of various types, sizes and weights of vehicles expected to travel a modern highway, designers tend to build a safety margin into the highway, usually in the range of 10 to 20 per cent over the recommended maximum speed.
With these features, the TCH is perfectly capable of accommodating a heavy, continuous flow of traffic at its current speed limit of 100 kilometres per hour. What is astounding to me is how many motorists insist on testing the aforementioned safety margin by driving at speeds well in excess of the posted limit. Those who insist on staying within that limit are the slowest travelers on the road. Maybe the majority confused that the maximum is intended to be the minimum?
The VMH currently has a maximum posted speed limit identical to the TCH. At the same time, VMH is not the TCH, and is not, and never will be, as safe as the TCH, without major changes, upgrades, redesign and piles of money. It appears that, based on the current need to tighten public spending, such a project may not be feasible for some time yet.
For 30 years, I traveled the two highways considered most dangerous in northern Alberta. In all that time I never saw any motorist pull off the kind of stupid, reckless stunts that I've seen on VMH. Similar to the TCH, the 100 kilometres per hour vehicle is the slowest on the road. I repeat, VMH is not as safe as the TCH at the posted speed limit.
I've come to think that many users of VMH appear to drive in a state of oblivious impatience — with little thought of the dangers or consequences of a split-second incident (blown tire, mechanical failure, animal crossing or collision). The possibility of such an incident should be front of mind for every driver. The consequential severity of an incident at 100 kilometres per hour is increased significantly from one at 85 to 90. It is not a linear scale.
With this in mind, and for the safety of all users of this valuable highway, I suggest the following:
1. The maximum speed be reduced to 90 kilometres per hour;
2. Provincial highway statutes be strictly and seriously enforced; and
3. Public awareness be undertaken to encourage users of the highway to drive with courtesy, common sense, and consideration for the safety of everybody else beside themselves.
It's not the highway. It's the people!
— Ed Hodder writes from Shearstown