Snowplows faced 'challenging' congestion on Alex Fraser Bridge, says ministry

Stuck on bridge for hours

B.C.'s Ministry of Transportation says a “full force” of de-icing crews and snowplows was still not enough to clear the Alex Fraser Bridge of snow Tuesday evening, leading to several car crashes that ultimately closed the crossing for about five hours.

Janelle Staite, regional director of highway services, told media Wednesday that 30 “pieces of equipment” were deployed on highways; however, a raft of problems compounded, leading to “some very extraordinary commutes for folks.”

First, traffic congestion began earlier than normal in the day, as commuters rushed home early. The bridge had one lane closed each way for crews to de-ice the cables in the late afternoon, said Staite. Snow then began falling very quickly, as much as six centimetres in an hour, she said. Car crashes then occurred on the bridge and the snowplows subsequently got stuck in traffic.

“The congestion was another piece of it that that made it challenging for the pieces of equipment to do the work,” she told reporters.

Finally, snow and high winds forced the closure of the bridge, regardless of the vehicle accidents, said Staite.

Drive BC announced on Twitter at 8:09 p.m. Tuesday that the seven-lane bridge had closed following “several vehicle incidents.”

At 12:51 a.m., the bridge re-opened with two northbound lanes and one southbound lane.

The ministry is reviewing the ordeal that saw motorists stranded on the bridge deck for hours, said Staite, who noted several times that extraordinary congestion was the “big issue.”

“I can absolutely assure you that we're having a debriefing to see how do we ensure that, moving forward, we don't see the same type of congestion that we experienced last night,” she said.

That debriefing will include weighing the risks of keeping the bridge open versus having motorists stuck in vehicles for hours, potentially without food and water and running out of gas.

Given all resources were allocated to the foreseeable snowstorm, Staite was asked if more equipment and service was needed.

“The resources they (Mainroad Group) have are in line with the response specifications that we've laid out.

“Again, part of it is just being able to get to those roads to be able to plow them. So, if there are opportunities for the public to move over with the amber lights... that enables our contractor to ensure they are meeting the specifications that we laid out,” she said.

Asked about communication, Staite said the ministry warned the public of the coming storm on Monday via social media accounts.

Staite stressed the need for drivers to be prepared for winter conditions and stay home when they can. She said the ministry is not contemplating winter tire mandates for the Lower Mainland.

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