A bad winter on the Coq

The Coquihalla Highway has always been a treacherous road, especially in the winter, but with a month of winter still ahead, this year has been particularly nasty.

A major crash on the Coquihalla involving two buses and several semi trucks closed the highway for seven hours Sunday and sent 29 people to the hospital.

While the government has only compiled data up to the end of December, Castanet articles show the highway has been closed, partially or fully, at least 21 times this year, starting with an early dump of snow on Oct. 13, 2017.

In February alone this year, the highway has been closed partially or fully nine times, two of which were due to fatal vehicle collisions.

“We are on track this year to have a larger number of closures, but not out of line with some other years in the past,” said Danielle Pope with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

The ministry says last winter, the Coquihalla between Merritt and Hope, was fully closed 19 times, the most in the past 10 years.

VSA Highway Maintenance plows, salts and sands the Coquihalla when winter storms batter the highway. VSA's spokesperson, Bob Gilowski, says this winter has been quite different than last year's.

“We did have quite a significant snowfall this past January, especially when we compare it to last year,” Gilowski said.

This year, 235 centimetres of snow fell near the Coquihalla Summit, compared to just 80 cm the year before.

“It's been a challenging year, not just on the Coquihalla but all over the province this year due to weather conditions,” said Const. Mike Halskov of the BC RCMP Traffic Services.

This year has also seen colder temperatures than last.

“At colder temperatures like we are seeing this winter, chemicals are not effective at removing the compact snow so our contractors make every effort to manage the compact snow road conditions through sanding and ice-blading to restore traction,” Pope said.

While this winter has seen three fatal collisions on the Coquihalla, the ministry says significant crashes have trended downwards by nearly 30 per cent in the Merritt area over the past 10 years.

“People’s safety is our top priority, and we urge travellers to slow down, exercise caution, prepare for potential delays, and consider alternate routes or travel times when they encounter bad weather or limited visibility,” said Pope.

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