Road condition “worst in fifteen years”

  • Feb. 13, 2008 7:00 p.m.

The Ministry of Transportation took the unusual step of closing Highway 16 between Skidegate and Masset for several hours Feb. 7 after freezing rain turned the road into a 100-kilometre long sheet of ice. “Conditions were like a skating rink,” said area manager Stephanie Gillis, who was awoken at 3:30 am by a call from road contractor O’Brien Road and Bridge Maintenance alerting her to the dangerous state of the highway. O’Brien manager Dennis Reindl said in 15 years of working here, he has never seen anything like the extreme conditions that night. “We’ve had situations where we’ve had freezing rain, but generally it doesn’t cover the range that it covered,” he said. “It covered from Masset to Skidegate. There was nowhere without black ice.” There was more traffic than normal on the road after midnight because ferry passengers were driving to a 3 am check-in at the Skidegate terminal, Mr. Reindl said. Most of the traffic made it before the freezing rain started. But conditions quickly deteriorated and shortly after that, Mr. Reindl said, O’Brien’s plow truck slipped right off the road near Skidegate and into the ditch. It was so icy that at least one driver parked his two-ton van by the side of the highway to await better weather, even before the road was officially closed, he said. Meanwhile, further north, another plow truck slipped off the road, got pulled back on, returned to get chains, and slid off the road a second time. “It was just unbelievable,” Mr. Reindl said. “It kept on raining, it kept freezing raining.” The road was closed shortly after 3:30 am, with manned barricades going up in Masset, Port and Skidegate. The portion of the highway between Masset and Port Clements re-opened around 10:30, Mr. Reindl said. The section between Port and Skidegate opened an hour later. The road closure meant a day off for many islands students, with school buses unable to make their regular runs. Ms Gillis said it’s not unusual for a portion of the highway to be closed for a couple of hours at some point during the winter, but last week’s closure was much longer than most. “Usually with freezing rain you’re able to salt it and remove it,” she said. “We couldn’t keep up with it… The surface temperatures were allowing it to build up.” Ms Gillis said O’Brien Road and Bridge did a good job getting the road salted, sanded and open again under challenging circumstances. “I feel our contractor did as well as they could,” she said. “I think they did a good job.”

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