The deputy highways minister said work is already underway on recommendations made to improve safety at the highway intersection where the Humboldt Broncos bus crash happened.
The final report was released Wednesday afternoon following a traffic engineering review of the Highway 35 and Highway 335 intersection.
The report goes through the details of traffic flow at the intersection, and it outlines 13 recommendations to make the intersection safer. The provincial government previously committed to going through with all recommendations.
Deputy Minister Fred Antunes said on Wednesday that work is already happening.
“As we speak right now, our crews are out on Highway 335 installing the ‘stop ahead’ and the ‘stop’ signs on the pavement, markings that were recommended, and we plan to change the centre line striping tomorrow if the weather permits.”
Two of the recommendations are things the province doesn’t do now – using oversized stop signs, and painting “stop ahead” and “stop” directly on the highway pavement. Antunes said this intersection will be the first in Saskatchewan with those marking, and they could be used at other intersections as well.
“The results of this review will have an implication on other intersections around the province and hopefully improve safety at other places around the province,” explained Antunes.
Another recommendation is for the access for the Broncos memorial to be moved further from the intersection and for that Antunes said the province will work with the Town of Humboldt and the Humboldt Broncos hockey team.
Even though a long list of changes will be made to the intersection, Antunes said there is still driver responsibility in staying safe. He said driver decisions are responsible for almost all crashes.
Many of the recommendations are expected to be finished in the coming winter, but some will take longer. Antunes said the province is hoping to have them all done by the end of 2019.
The estimated total cost of all the changes is at least $991,000, however, the cost for some of the changes are yet to be determined so that number could rise.
The recommendations include:
1. Increasing the width of the highway shoulders near the intersection. They’re currently 1.5 metres when the recommended width is two metres.
2. Removing the trees from the southeast corner of the intersection which obstruct drivers’ sightlines.
3. Various sign-related changes, like moving the railway crossing signs further away from the road, and changing the placement and clarity of signs.
4. Removing a gravel road.
5. Constructing a safer roadside memorial access road farther away from the intersection.
6. Relocating the access to the grain elevator from Highway 35 to Highway 335 to align with the roadside memorial access. The report says where it is currently is too close to the intersection and could cause confusion.
7. Mill rumble strips on Highway 335 approaches.
8. Change the road lanes so that passing will not be permitted in close proximity to the intersection.
9. Improve sign placement and enhance stop controls to help drivers during times where sun glare is bad.
10. Realign overhead power lines to fix overhead clutter.
11. Install “Stop” and “Stop ahead” markings on highway pavement
12. Install breakaway bases for railway signals if they don’t already have them, to improve safety in the case of a crash.
13. Install breakaway bases for light standards if they don’t already have them
‘Hallowed ground’: parent doesn’t want memorial moved
Scott Thomas, who lost his son Evan in the April 6 crash, said he was “relieved” to see several of the recommendations that spoke to what he’s noticed when visiting the intersection himself.
He told 650 CKOM in an interview Wednesday he thought rumble strips would help, as well as removing the stand of trees to improve sightlines.
“The bus driver had no defensive course of action because he couldn’t see what was happening,” Thomas said.
“The trees and the buildings that were there played a huge factor in his ability to react to the situation.”
However, the recommendation that suggested moving the Broncos memorial site away from the northeast corner for safety purposes isn’t sitting well with him.
“That’s hallowed ground,” he said. “To move it from there, I’d be disappointed.”
Thomas said there have been several conversations amongst the parents who lost their children in the crash about how to preserve the memorial. He said they’ve been trying to work out how to keep the items there clean and protected from the elements.
“My perfect world would be that memorial never changes,” he said.
“(I want to) find a way to put a big glass hand, or something, reaching out of the earth to protect those crosses.”
Antunes clarified Thursday morning the memorial safety improvements will focus more on improving the safety of access to the site, and less on moving it.
He noted the intersection is currently reduced to a 60 km/h speed limit to accommodate people visiting the memorial.
“What we’d like to see is the memorial access roads moved farther away from the intersection,” he said.
“If the community, Humboldt Broncos and the family decides that’s where the memorial needs to be, we just want to work with them so it’s not an obstruction.”
Antunes said they want to make sure visitors can get on and off the highway safely, and crews may end up installing guard rails to protect people from any vehicles that could lose control on the road.
— With files from 650 CKOM’s Chris Vandenbreekel.