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Two steps ahead, one back

With phase 2 of the Mahalat safety project complete its good to reflect on the recent changes.

A Step Ahead

The addition of a few kilometres of median barrier is a great improvement. Most of the fatal accidents over the past decade could have been prevented with the presence of concrete median barrier. The latest addition means the Malahat is now 50% divided. Its an important milestone – but it also means we have a lot more work to do.

Another Step

Along with the vital addition of median barriers – the highway also is in desperate need of capacity improvements to improve traffic flow. We got about 1 kilometre of new southbound passing lane – and about 200 metres of new northbound passing lane. It could be deemed a pitiful amount – but considering the previous project removed passing lanes in order to add median – its a welcome addition.

A Step Back

When a project is promoted to improve safety its troubling when an important component appears flawed. The new design for Whittaker Road intersection does not improve safety – it actually increases the risk of an accident.

Turning left onto the highway at this location was always difficult – the brow of the hill on the right obscuring northbound traffic. Now the median barrier has been added – the view of northbound traffic has been reduced even further.

Add to the fact that there is now a second southbound lane that merges to one lane immediately after the intersection – creating a similar race-and-merge situation as the north bound lanes – turns the intersection into NASCAR corner times 2!

Knowing this would be a problem while the project was under construction – I emailed the Transportation Ministry to raise my concerns. I suggested a “Protected T” intersection – that gives a refuge in centre of the road so that turning traffic can deal with one direction of traffic at a time.

The ministry said they considered a Protected T at Whittaker and the nearby Shawnigan Lake intersection – but both were deemed too expensive and unnecessary. The fatal accident involving the death of a motorcyclist at the nearby Shawnigan Lake Road intersection in the summer of 2014 would strongly suggest otherwise.

Its further troubling that nearly every other unsignalized left-turn onto Highway 1 between Victoria and Nanaimo – has had the left turn restricted and rerouted to an overpass or a signalized intersection – after a series of serious – and in some cases fatal accidents. These include Beck Road south of Nanaimo, Brenton Page Road north of Ladysmith, Fuller Lake Road in Chemainus and Miller Road in Duncan.

The ministry official I spoke with said if there are accidents at Whittaker – then they will consider further safety measures. In other words – if someone gets killed – they may consider making changes.  Common sense to me would dictate designing intersections that avoid the flaws that made similar intersections dangerous.

In this case it seems to me that cost efficiency has overruled safety and common sense.