Commercial trucks banned from left lane of Coquihalla

Written by: Carmen Weld for Mission City Record

Starting this week, the B.C. provincial government has banned commercial vehicles from using the far left lane on the Coquihalla’s Snowshed Hill between Box Canyon and Zopkios. The move is the first in the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s No Trucks in the Left Lane pilot program, with other select routes in the B.C. Interior to possibly follow.

The Coquihalla Highway is one of the province’s busiest mountain passes with both passenger and commercial vehicles relying on it as a primary connection between the Lower Mainland and the Interior.It also experiences extreme snowfall rates, with accumulation sometimes exceeding 10 centimeters per hour.

“That’s a lot of white stuff coming down. Even with regular plowing and sanding; snow and slush accumulates on the road surface quickly, reducing traction and visibility. Add a spun out commercial vehicle (or more) to the mix and things can get messy really quickly,” writes the ministry.

The government states it chose that section of road between Hope and Merritt for Phase 1 as the snow is heavy and wet there, creating tricky road conditions for trucks, even with minor accumulations on the road surface.

“Over the past couple of winter seasons, commercial vehicles on the Coquihalla have been spinning out in climbing sections more frequently during storms,” adds the ministry.

“In fact, last winter, 33 of 35 extended closures on the Coquihalla involved commercial vehicles. At times this meant commercial vehicles were blocking the highway until they could either be towed away, or equipped with chains (which they should have already had on their vehicles).”

What makes the road closures worse is that, because the Coquihalla is a divided highway, snow plows often get caught in the traffic queue behind the blockage, restricted by roadside barriers and unable to turn around.

“We hope to prevent a repeat of that trend this year by restricting commercial vehicles from using the far left lane on Snowshed Hill,” reads the government release.

“We’ve chosen to pilot this restriction on Snowshed Hill specifically, because our Commercial Vehicle Safety Enforcement focuses a large part of their enforcement efforts on this location during the winter months and this is the location where trucks spin out the most.”

By restricting trucks from the left lane, the government assumes traffic flow will be better maintained (including emergency vehicles) and plowing operations, as well as significantly reduce the time it takes to re-establish the flow of traffic after a vehicle incident/closure.

“We’ve also recently constructed and opened the Box Canyon Chain Up area (located on the Coquihalla, before Snowshed Hill). We’re expecting commercial vehicles to use this facility when snow falls on the Coquihalla, in advance of heading over the summit. The facility can hold up to 70 commercial vehicles at a time and can also accommodate oversized loads as well,” adds the release.

“The safety and mobility of the travelling public are our top priorities. We hope that this change will help both of these over the coming winter on the Coquihalla.”