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EDITORIAL: Highway stretch too dangerous to ignore

Yoho National Park has a deadly problem that cannot be overlooked by Ottawa any longer.

Yoho National Park has a deadly problem that cannot be overlooked by Ottawa any longer.

On Tuesday evening (Sept. 14), two people riding in an SUV were killed in a head-on crash with a semi-truck on the Trans-Canada Highway between Field and Golden in Yoho National Park, British Columbia. The semi driver was uninjured.

Their unfortunate deaths are No. 7 and No. 8 this year along the risky 56-kilometre stretch of highway, and with accidents predicted to increase in years to come as more travellers visit the area, there have been calls for the federal government to step up and twin the highway.

Retired head of Parks Canada’s highway services centre in the parks, Terry McGuire, being one of them.

In July, McGuire told the Outlook that the collision rate for Yoho National Park is 22 per cent higher than the B.C. highway average.

In every deadly case in 2022, it’s been a brutal head-on collision along the double lane highway that has occasional sections for passing both ways that are a few kms.

A daunting thought is that these have mostly occurred in spring and summer, when road conditions are usually a non-factor. Buckle up for winter.

Another key safety issue victims have to deal with is delayed response times from emergency crews. This came about following failed negotiations between federal agency Parks Canada and Field’s volunteer fire department.

Field is within Yoho National Park.

The little volunteer fire department can’t respond to accidents in Yoho though, due to lack of staffing or a paid fire chief. The blatant issue with this is now emergency crews have to travel from outside of Yoho, from places like Golden or Lake Louise to respond to highway accidents.

McGuire said little progress has been made federally for highway construction since the twinning of the first six kms in the park, which, along with wildlife fencing and wildlife crossings, was completed in 2018.

And as more visitors return and motorists passing through the area now and for years to come, he said the “totally preventable tragedies” will continue to rise on the highway in its current state.

Finding money to fund a big-scale twinning project is the only major blockade.

But, not only is it irresponsible for Ottawa’s empty-pockets and shoulder shrugs to allow this to linger due to significant safety issues, it’s at the gateway to Canada’s flagship national park where millions of people travel each year – spending tens of millions ­of dollars – and the highway represents a major artery for commercial goods.

If the government doesn’t see value in keeping people safe on this stretch of highway and potential revenue loss as alarming factors to take action, who will?