FIELD, B.C. – When Dee Morrison heard two more people had been killed on a deadly stretch of highway through Yoho National Park, her grief came flooding back as she recalled her own husband’s death on the same stretch of road earlier this year.
Dee’s partner and husband of 27 years, Scott Morrison was killed instantly when his Ford-150 was hit head-on by an eastbound truck on the undivided two-lane Trans-Canada Highway just west of Field on Feb. 5 this year.
The 51-year-old would not be the last to die on that treacherous 40-kilometre stretch of undivided highway between Sherbrooke Creek and Yoho National Park’s western boundary.
Since then, seven more people have died, including most recently two people on Sept. 13 when their eastbound SUV and a westbound semi truck crashed head-on near Finn Creek, about eight km west of Field.
“When I heard two more people had died, I was like, no, not again… it’s the same thing when my son called me and I hear my husband dies, it actually opens the wounds all over again,” said Dee through tears of grief, heartache and frustration at more deaths.
“I’ve lost my husband, I’ve lost my best, best friend in the whole world and I can imagine all these other people who are just so devastated losing their sons, their partners, their best friends.”
Dee had gone to Kelowna, B.C., in January to care for her ageing and sick mother and Scott was on his way there from Calgary on Feb. 5.
Her brother-in-law, Collin Morrison, was also in the pick-up truck the day of the accident and ended up in critical condition in Calgary’s Foothills Hospital.
Dee said Collin was in a coma and suffered 14 different injuries, including a brain injury, broken neck and had both legs broken. He has no memory of the crash.
Scott had texted his wife the night before the tragic accident to say he was on his way early the following morning.
“He texted me the night before to say he was just doing laundry, filled up with gas, and his ETA should be around 3:30 in the afternoon,” she said.
“Of course, the conditions were not favourable. It was very icy that day … he never arrived.”
Twinning of the first six km of the Trans-Canada Highway in Yoho National Park from two to four lanes, along with wildlife exclusion fencing and wildlife crossing structures, was completed by Parks Canada in 2018.
The preliminary design and environmental assessment for the remaining 40-km section between Sherbrooke Creek and the western end of Yoho National Park, known as phase IVB, was wrapped up in 2021.
The assessment, combined with public feedback and consultation with Indigenous groups, informed the park superintendent’s decision that the project may proceed when funding becomes available.
“How many more people need to die for the government to get some more money to fix this road?” said Dee.
“This is just unbelievable. I don’t understand. In seven months, we’ve lost seven more people. That’s a person a month … To say there’s no no money, that doesn’t make sense.”
Parks Canada officials said they offer condolences and compassion to those affected by these tragic accidents on the Trans-Canada Highway within park boundaries.
"The agency continues to work with its enforcement and engineering partners to investigate and assess these incidents to better understand and implement any required safety measures," said Suzanne White, a spokesperson for Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay in an emailed statement.
Having recognized the importance of twinning this section of the Trans-Canada Highway, White said Parks Canada is now positioned to proceed quickly when funding becomes available.
"Funding has not yet been allocated for the initial construction phase of this project," she said. "Construction costs vary from year to year and construction schedules are dependent on funding and contractor availability and schedules. Parks Canada anticipates that highway twinning will be undertaken in a phased approach and take place over several years."
The federal agency’s impact assessment for highway twinning indicates this stretch of the Trans-Canada has a higher accident rate than average for similar highways in B.C.. It states the forecast growth in traffic will contribute to an increase in motor vehicle accidents.
According to the project overview, there were 234 collisions, including 132 injuries and five fatalities between 2012 and 2016. The Outlook could not obtain updated statistics before deadline.
Average daily traffic volumes in Yoho National Park reach almost 7,500 vehicles, according to park data. Traffic volumes peak in July and August, growing to 10,000-15,000 daily vehicle trips. The forecast is summer volumes will exceed 23,000 per day by 2046.
Dr. John Morrall, president of the Canadian Highways Institute and a professor emeritus from the University of Calgary whose expertise is in highway engineering, said he forecasts between 20 and 30 fatalities a year over the next 20 years if the highway is not twinned.
“This carnage, this highway slaughter, is going to just continue until Parks takes some action,” said Morrall, who also designed the highway passing lanes in the mountain national parks in the 1970s and 80s.
“It should have been twinned a very long time ago.”
Morrall said with the transition from four-lanes outside of Yoho to two-lanes in the park, drivers get impatient, which can lead to collisions.
He said the passing lanes when he designed them were for around 6,000 or 7,000 vehicles.
“While the highway served very well for many years, it’s now way beyond the capacity and the safe operation for the volume of traffic as a two-lane highway,” said Morrall.
“The solutions are simple. We know how to build a four-lane highway. It’s not rocket science.”
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is also calling on the government to fund the highway twinning in Yoho National Park.
Sarah Elmeligi, CPAWS' Southern Alberta’s national parks program coordinator, said this is the biggest issue facing that park right now.
“If the work for the design and environmental assessment was completed, then that federal funding commitment to twin that section needs to come sooner rather than later,” she said.
“I think this summer is evidence that project needs to proceed; the risks have now become too great to park visitors and park wildlife."
Twinning the highway in Banff National Park, with mitigations like fences, underpasses and overpasses, reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions involving ungulates by almost 95 per cent and about 80 per cent for all species.
It also showed a six-fold reduction in the fatal collision rate by reducing head-on collisions.
Terry McGuire, the retired head of Parks Canada’s highway services centre in the parks for about 20 years and the Yoho highway twinning field unit advisor from 2016 to 2020, said the toll on human life will continue to grow until the last 40 km is twinned.
He pegs the construction costs at about $750 million, which only increases the longer it takes to get started.
“In the early 90s passing lanes were added in Yoho to help address traffic volumes and provide safe opportunities to pass,” said McGuire. “Nothing much has happened since then.”
McGuire said the federal government is a proponent of Vision Zero – an international best practice first adopted by Sweden in 1997 that aims to make highways and roads safer by reducing fatalities and injuries by various methods, including through better design.
“Yet, here in this instance, a road under federal jurisdiction goes ignored ,” said McGuire.
Aside from Morrison’s death on Feb. 5, seven more people died in four separate accidents.
On June 15, a head-on crash between a logging truck and SUV one kilometre west of Field left one man dead and sent another to a Calgary hospital via STARS air ambulance.
On July 2, a 31-year-old Alberta man was killed when a vehicle collided with a semi-truck about 17 kilometres west of Field. The driver of the semi-truck was uninjured and the highway was closed for more than five hours.
On Aug. 28, three people were killed when two semi-trucks – one of which was transporting cattle – collided at the west boundary of Yoho National Park, forcing a 37-hour highway closure.
Most recently, on Sept. 13, two people were killed when their eastbound SUV and a westbound semi truck collided at about 6:15 p.m. on Sept. 13, about eight kilometres west of Field, B.C. near Finn Creek.
As for Dee Morrison, she’s terrified of driving that section of road, which she must in order to visit her ageing mom in Kelowna. On one occasion, she said she experienced a panic attack.
She hopes others come forward to fight for upgrades to make the highway safer.
“Scott was a quiet man, but he always helped people out, he was always willing to help people,” she said.
“We need to have more people come forward and do something about this.”
For now, Dee is trying to pick up the pieces of her life.
She and Scott were together for 27 years, married for 26 of those.They have a a 26-year-old son, Peter.
“I’m still hoping he comes home, but I know that’s not going to happen,” she said.
“It is a pretty horrific time.”