By Steve Hubrecht
The closure of the TransCanada Highway at the Kicking Horse Canyon has once again caused a noticeable increase in traffic accidents in the Columbia Valley.
The TransCanada has been shutdown since mid-September as part of efforts to ‘twin’ (i.e. to expand to two lanes in each direction) the section through the Kicking Horse Canyon between Golden and Field, meaning all traffic on the national cross-country highway has been rerouted south from Lake Louise to Radium via Highway 93, then back up to Golden on Highway 95.
A similar closure this past spring created a dramatic spike in vehicle collisions along Highway 93 through Kootenay National Park as well as on Highway 95 in the northern reaches of the Columbia Valley, and that trend is evident again this fall.
Columbia Valley RCMP Sergeant Darren Kakuno outlined the increase to both Invermere and Radium councils during his quarterly updates to both last week, at the Tuesday, Nov. 9 Invermere council meeting and the Wednesday, Nov. 10 Radium council meeting.
“The hot topic is the Kicking Horse Canyon and the diversion that’s constantly been keeping us busy,” Kakuno told Radium councillors at the Nov. 10 meeting.
Kakuno explained to both councils that from Sept. 21 to Oct. 31 in 2020 (when the TransCanada was not closed), the Columbia Valley had 31 traffic complaints and 24 collisions. In 2021 from Sept. 21 (the day the closure started) to Oct. 31, the Columbia Valley saw 66 traffic complaints and 33 collisions — a more than 100 per cent increase in complaints and a 30 per cent increase in collisions.
Of the 33 collisions, 15 were on Highway 93 South through Kootenay National Park (on the diversion route), seven were on Highway 95 north of Radium (on the diversion route), five were on Highway 93/95 south of Radium (not on the diversion route), and six happened either in towns or on secondary highways and sideroads elsewhere in the Columbia Valley (not on the diversion route).
Kakuno outlined the Columbia Valley RCMP is working with Cranbrook Highway Patrol, Golden Highway Patrol, and Lake Louise Highway Patrol to have at least one officer on Highway 93 South of Highway 95 (between Radium and Golden) each day.
“Is that adequate?” Radium councillor Tyler McCauley asked Kakuno at the Radium council meeting.
“I’d love to have 24-hour coverage, but everyone is just scraping by,” replied Kakuno.
“I cringe every time I hear the (emergency) sirens early in the morning or late at night,” said McCauley.
“It’s been hard on the detachment. It’s been rough…We are going through some hard times…We don’t have the resources, the bodies we need to properly cover the area. We’re just trying to keep up,” said Kakuno, adding that many detachments across B.C. are in a similar situation.
Kakuno explained to both councils that the Columbia Valley RCMP is still short staffed, with one permanent officer vacancy still yet to be filled, and another officer on maternity leave, noting that being down two officers in an 11-person detachment is a significant staffing issue.
He reported that the detachment had done several live-training intruder threat scenarios at the local high school this past summer, with administrators and some school district staff and teachers joining in the scenarios.
“It gave them a better understanding of what to expect if there truly was an active threat at one of the schools,” said Kakuno.
He outlined that Columbia Valley Constable Andrew Henneberry recently completed the RCMP’s drug recognition expert (DRE) training course, making him just one of a handful of such RCMP experts in the entire Kootenay region.
“We’re lucky we have him right here in the Columbia Valley,” said Kakuno.