Canadian Underwriter

Sections of roadways in British Columbia to get variable speed signs

December 2, 2015   by Canadian Underwriter

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Variable speed signs are being installed on sections of the Coquihalla, the Trans-Canada Highway and the Sea to Sky Highway in British Columbia as part of a pilot project to help reduce the frequency of weather-related crashes.

Overhead message signs at the entrance of each corridor will inform drivers that they are entering a variable speed zone and to be aware of changing weather conditions

With the rapidly changing weather in parts of B.C., such as rain turning to snow very quickly, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is about to launch this new safety tool – electronic signs that will warn drivers to slow down in bad weather, the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone said in the statement that the ministry looked at how it could help reduce crashes related to poor weather conditions as part of its Rural Highway Safety and Speed Review. “One of the ideas was to introduce new digital variable speed limit signs in areas where the weather can change quickly and sometimes catch drivers off guard,” Stone said. “The electronic signs will adjust the speed limit to let drivers know what speed they should be travelling during winter weather conditions, to help them reach their destination safe and sound.”

Crews are installing 18 variable speed signs along Highway 1 from Perry River to Revelstoke, 13 along the Coquihalla from Portia Interchange to the former Toll Plaza and 16 along the Sea to Sky from Squamish to Function Junction, the ministry reported.

There will also be at least two to three months of testing before the systems go live. The testing phase is important to ensure the systems are robust, reliable and appropriately calibrated to reflect highway conditions before they are turned on, the ministry said, adding that the systems are expected to go live in early 2016.

“These variable speed signs will be a great addition to our community, which is often subject to challenging weather and road conditions that can change rapidly,” said West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy. “These routes are some of the busiest in the region and having the ability to adjust speed limits to fit weather conditions is an innovative way we can increase safety for all road users.”

Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo added that weather and road conditions can be unpredictable for much of the year in mountainous terrain, but the variable speed limit signs will give travellers real-time information that could reduce the likelihood of speed-related crashes.

The digital signs will be “very visible” to drivers and the speed limit will be changed to reflect driving conditions, the ministry noted. Overhead message signs at the entrance of each corridor will inform drivers that they are entering a variable speed zone and to be aware of changing weather conditions.

Whether it is extreme cold, freezing rain or heavy snowfall, the extensive system of traffic, pavement and visibility sensors will be calibrated to detect the conditions and provide a recommended speed to operations staff. This information will be used to continuously update the speed shown on digital signs, to help drivers know a safe driving speed during adverse weather conditions.

“Speeding is the leading cause of fatal car crashes in B.C.,” said Chief Constable Neil Dubord, chair of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police Traffic Safety Committee. “Seven out of 10 speed-related crashes are related to driving too fast for the road conditions. Police across B.C. are urging drivers to be alert, slow down and adjust their driving for the conditions.”

The ministry has invested $12.5 million to install and run the three pilot systems. This pilot program is part of the ministry’s $25-million per-year Roadside Safety Program, as announced in B.C. on the Move, the government’s 10-year plan for the improvement of the province’s transportation network.