Let the rumble strips rumble

The other day I ran into our local MLA, Lori Carr, who happened to be the Highways Minister.

(Well, she was Highways minister when I spoke to her, as she was shuffled to Government Relations a few days later)

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I mentioned to her that there were a couple highway intersections I was aware of where the rumble strips had been filled in, and I didn’t know why. Given what happened with the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, maybe those rumble strips should be restored.

The two sites I mentioned were Highway 49, where it meets Highway 9 near Stenen, and Highway 47 where it meets Highway 13 at Stoughton. She said she’d look into it.

It turns out I’m not the only person who thinks rumble strips exist for a reason, and shouldn’t be removed, filled in, or otherwise obliterated. I found this little nugget from the report of Southeast Transportation Planning Committee meeting of July 23. It was in the Estevan city council agenda for Aug. 12.

“Rumble strips on #47, south of #13 at the Stoughton intersection were removed due to complaints of noise by a nearby resident. It was suggested that reducing speed may increase safety, Alan Lindsay reported that a speed analysis will be performed. John Brownlee noted that this crossing is becoming very rutted. Pat Shiels reported there are many heavy loads going from #33 onto #47 south of Stoughton.”

Aha! So there’s the reason they were filled in at Stoughton! Someone squawked because, guess what, rumble strips rumble.

Now, I can understand the concern, to a point. That intersection was the heart of the Bakken oil play when it took off around 2008. While still active, it’s not nearly as crazy as it used to be. From that intersection, on any given day you could stand in the back of your pickup bed, spin around 360 degrees and count four or six derricks of various drilling, service and coiled tubing rigs. Most oilfield truck traffic originating in Estevan and going to the Bakken passed through that intersection when headed northbound. Similarly, traffic originating from Weyburn passed through it eastbound, although in that case, it was a through-traffic scenario.

(Of course, no trucker would ever imagine using jake brakes near a town like Stoughton. Not ever).

Thus, some consideration could be given to the poor resident, whomever they may be, whose brains are being pulsed out of their heads by rumbling rumble strips.

But the aftermath of the Humboldt Broncos tragedy requires a rethink, methinks.

The provincial government has been moving towards improving highway intersection safety in the aftermath of that horrendous event. There are a few things I’ve seen implemented here and there that, if implemented, would be helpful.

First of all, anywhere that rumble strips have been removed, they need to be restored. They truly make a difference for people not paying attention. You can’t really put them on gravel roads, but if the road that the semi was travelling on had them, the driver likely wouldn’t have blown through the intersection.

Or maybe you can create some sort of rumble strip, by way of Texas gates. They use them in the States to keep wildlife off the Interstates. However, they could be more problematic than helpful, and maybe even cause more accidents than they prevent. Not sure about the Texas gate thing.

The next item was implemented on the north side of Estevan where Highway 47 and the new truck bypass meet. Not only to they have a stop sign with a blinking light, and a high-mounted stop sign, they also have radar-triggered lights.

If you are coming at the intersection too quickly, bright lights around the eight points of each of the stop signs start blinking brightly at you – almost angrily so. “Pay attention! Halt!” They seem to say. They definitely get your attention.

I’m not sure when those lights were put into place. When the bypass opened, that intersection, as I expected, soon became something of a meatgrinder. I’m not aware of as many collisions there these days, perhaps because of these radar-triggered lights, or perhaps because people have become used to the intersection being there. No matter what, those lights are invaluable, and I have yet to see them implemented elsewhere.

Similarly, those solar-powered radar speed indicators always get my attention, especially when they start blinking and flashing a light at you. The ones at Sturgis, Lampman and Stoughton always catch my attention. Could there be some utility in putting these near intersections? Maybe its best to just do the radar-triggered stop signs.

While I will bitch and moan about Manitoba highways every chance I get – especially with their lack of paved shoulders, there is one thing the Manitobans get right – their highway intersections.

It is very common to see turning lanes at T-intersections. The signage seems to be bigger. The alignments seem to be somewhat better. I can’t put my exact finger on it, but generally Manitoba seems to have put more thought into their intersections.

I realize that a lot of ink has been spilled suggesting what could be done to improve highway intersections since the bus crash, but these are relatively modest proposals.

Let’s start with making rumble strips everywhere.


Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@sasktel.net.

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