Private members’ bills generally don’t get much traction at Queen’s Park, but a Tory MPP has high hopes hers has hit a non-partisan sweet spot.
Gila Martow, who represents the GTHA riding of Thornhill, is pushing for the creation of a panel tasked with reporting on ways to speed up the time it takes to clear highway accidents.
Called the Highway Incident Management Act, the bill has passed second reading and is waiting to go before a committee for input.
Martow says everyone is sympathetic when people are in car accidents, but increasingly we’re seeing multiple lanes closed for hours on end as police and emergency responders investigate and clear the scene.
“It’s not just about the people being stuck in traffic…it’s that we have a huge economic impact on the entire region.”
Hamilton councillor and police board chair Lloyd Ferguson, who has raised the issue of prolonged road closures several times, supports Martow’s initiative.
He’s convinced that because of court decisions and insurance requirements, the OPP is closing lanes more often and taking longer to investigate accidents on Highway 403 and the QEW, which is creating spillover chaos on Hamilton roads.
“Clearly we’ve got to do something to speed up the opening of these highways because it’s inconveniencing way too many people,” says Ferguson.
Hamiltonians certainly have a vested interest in the success of Martow’s bill.
Consider the recent mudslide on the 403 that forced the closure of Hamilton-bound lanes, the dump truck smash-up on the Burlington Skyway that diverted traffic for days, and several other local highway-closing crashes in recent months.
There’s no doubt that severely clogged roads equal higher accidents rates, which in turn feed Metrolinx’s estimate that GTHA congestion costs about $6 billion a year in lost business activity and other commuter-related issues.
But is it really taking longer to re-open lanes?
OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt argues road closures are actually getting shorter because of electronic mapping and the recent introduction of aerial drones used to record and reconstruct accident scenes
“Three hours is kind of an average window from the time of the collision to the time we re-open, but we’re at the mercy sometimes when it’s a major scene that is just beyond our control in terms of how we can get the highways cleaned up and how many resources are required to respond.”
First priority is always public safety: making sure that the injured are taken care of and fatalities properly investigated. But road conditions determine the extent of lane closures.
If debris, oil, and glass is scattered across the highway, it’ll be a full closure. Even when vehicles are on the shoulders, the need to document debris and tire marks may require closing all lanes.
Accidents involving loaded transport trucks require specialized equipment and extra resources. A spilled load can cause significant delay as do trucks that have to be unloaded before the vehicle can be uprighted.
Whether it’s taking longer to clear accident scenes or not, it’s clear that higher volumes of traffic create a ripple affect that can back up traffic for five or six hours even after a highway has been re-opened.
Martow’s bill aims to find ways to help that by improving driving behaviour, reducing the time it takes to clear an accident scene, providing timelier road closure information to drivers, and making roads safer. Opposing those goals is like opposing motherhood.