Since the 152 Street overpass at Highway 99 in South Surrey was struck by an overheight vehicle in December 2017, leaving the bridge damaged and partially closed to traffic for several months, large vehicles striking over-head bridges has remained a serious concern throughout B.C.
But the president of the BC Trucking Association says the information he needs to help prevent these incidents from happening is not forthcoming from the provincial government.
In the last 12 months, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has recorded seven incidents of transport trucks hitting overpass bridges in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley, the ministry reported in an email to Peace Arch News on Thursday (July 14) morning.
The most recent incident, happened Tuesday (July 12) on the 192 Street overpass above Highway 1 in north Surrey. Two people were injured after a westbound truck towing a lowbed trailer with an excavator hit the overpass.
“The overpass received significant damage and remains closed,” the ministry said.
Just a few weeks earlier, a similar collision caused an estimated $1 million damage to the 232nd Street overpass in Aldergrove.
Access to information is crucial for change
The big question on the mind of BC Trucking Association president Dave Earle is “why is this happening?”
His first concern any time there is an incident, is to check that everyone is taken care of, Earle told Peace Arch News, especially the ones injured in the collision.
“It concerns us that this is happening and it’s what we’re really calling on government for is to be more transparent and release the results of the investigation that take place, because we think it’s important that we know what happened,” he said.
“Was it the case where wrong equipment was chosen? Was it the case where someone took a shortcut? Was it a case of ignorance? Or was it willful blindness? Was it an approved route and the driver took a wrong turn and ended up on a freeway that they shouldn’t have been on?” Earle wonders.
“We just don’t know.”
The cost of striking an overpass
According to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, before heading out onto the road, commercial vehicle operators must secure a permit and ensure that the correct measurements of the vehicle and its load were provided when the permit was issued.
Other regulations outlined include that drivers follow their approved route, check that their load-haul has been secured properly and have checked the Height Clearance Tool before transporting their load.
Construction of all new infrastructure must be at least five metres high, with the addition of a few corridors that have been marked as “extraordinary load corridors” and therefore need more height allowance than the five-metre minimum.
Within the Commercial Transport Act regulations, fines are laid out for violating conditions of a permit or for operating without a permit. If either of these regulations are violated, the liable person or entity is subject to a fine of $115.
Adding to cost is the damage done to the cargo that was being carried, the equipment and the repurcussions of the enforcement action, Earle said.
“(Enforcement action) can be anything from tickets and points all the way up to suspension of licence to operate. So these are very serious incidences that carry with them extremely serious consequences.”
Deciding on preventative measures is impossible for the association at this stage, because they can’t prevent what they don’t fully understand, Earle said.
“Let’s figure out what happened and learn our lessons and make changes from there, but the first step is to learn what happened and share those findings with the (trucking) industry and the public.”
Changes needed to stop overpass strikes
BC Trucking Association is working with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, urging the release of data on the incidents and the results of the ensuing investigations.
“They haven’t said no, but there’s always been a presumption of privacy and what we’re saying is that needs to be change. We need to have a presumption of disclosure,” Earle said.
A ministry rep told PAN the province will be releasing a list of carriers around B.C. “who have been cancelled for cause, this includes serious safety violations,” in coming weeks.
This plan, the ministry states, is in an effort to be more transparent about the actions taken against carriers and instill more accountability for them in regard to safety practices on the road.
“In addition, the ministry is currently looking into how best to publicly share information about other types of commercial-vehicle incidents.”
This news is “a really good step,” said Earle, adding that releasing the information is going to, hopefully, instill more confidence for the public when working with transportation companies.
According to Earle, the ministry is also working on developing an online portal for the “National Safety Code Profile” that will allow residents wanting to work with a trucking company to log-in to the public site and see the safety history of companies.
“When we talk to customers about being careful about who you choose as your transportation provider, it’s really hard for that customer to figure out, ‘Well who’s safe and who’s not? Who has a good record and who doesn’t?’” Earle said.
“The next step is to share the lessons learned from incidents.”