The first snow road closure in the northeast of the season has prompted many moans about the start of another season of dangerous driving conditions on northern highways.
Hearst Mayor Roger Sigouin was among those disappointed to see Highway 11 closed between his town and Longlac on Tuesday morning.
“It’s not fun, not fun here,” Sigouin said.
“People wanted to go to the Thunder Bay hospital, but they couldn’t go.
The morning also saw a truck collision near Iroquois Falls and a snow-related collision between Hearst and Longlac.
Now that all closures are over, conversations continue around calls for the province to improve road safety in the North.
The Northern Policy Institute recently released new suggestions for technologies the province could use in the Northeast. One of them incorporates digital speed limit signs.
“Using sensors on the road, which largely exist in the North, they can detect weather conditions and…adjust the speed limit,” said report author William Dunstan.
The report cites the technology’s efficiency in British Columbia, saying it can result in savings of $4 for every dollar spent on the panels.
Sigouin is not convinced that this will change much in northeastern Ontario.
“I don’t see people going slower because of the speed limit,” he said. “It’s about road conditions.”
Dunstan said lowering speed limits based on road conditions could cause vehicles to slow down overall, even if drivers do not strictly adhere to the posted limit.
The institute’s report also suggests using automated anti-icing technology that also uses existing weather sensors, to determine when roads are at risk of becoming icy and preemptively spraying liquid.
The technology is already in use in the south, the report notes, including in the southernmost part of the northeast. It is also used throughout the country.
Dunstan said anti-icing and traffic signaling technologies would be the easiest to bring north for the province.
“They can most likely be effective in northern Ontario and (the Ministry of Transportation) already has expertise in implementing them,” he said.
Timiskaming-Cochrane MPP John Vanthof said he particularly likes the institute’s suggestion to incorporate “average speed cameras,” which can track a driver’s speed over several miles of road.
The idea is that motorists would be encouraged to obey the speed limit, knowing that they cannot simply slow down when they see a police vehicle and expect to be free to continue speeding.
However, Vanthof said that would only be really useful in the summer months, when drivers are more likely to speed up.
He said the current priority is to improve road maintenance, in particular to ensure that Highways 11 and 17 have the same status as the 400-series highways.
“If we could upgrade Highways 11 and 17 to Class 1, it would put more equipment on the road and, in our opinion, make the roads safer and hopefully less closed as often,” said Vanthof.
He told CTV that the Northern Provincial Transportation Task Force, established in January, has provided a report to MTO, with recommendations to make getting around the area easier.
Vanthof wants it made public, so it can be scrutinized and allow people to hold the province to account.
MTO provided a statement to CTV on the status of its efforts to improve road safety in the North.
“Since taking office, we have taken several steps to improve winter maintenance performance and safety, including the proactive increased use of anti-icing fluid, the introduction of the 2+1 Pilot at two locations on the Highway 11 and the increased use of snow plows. the statement read.
“We are also continuing to evaluate the data and results from the ‘Highway 11 and 17 Winter Maintenance Pilot Project’ to explore other steps we can take to make our roads even safer.”