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Group demands changes to dangerous stretch of Highway 144 near Onaping

No fatalities, but far too many transports tip or crash, and it’s only a matter of time until someone dies, says Nickel Belt MPP
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Chantelle Gorham is leading the charge to have the Ministry of Transportation make changes to a dangrous curve on Highway 144.

To the residents who live near Onaping and Levack, they know it’s only a matter of time before a driver is killed on a stretch or road on Highway 144 that has been a major concern for decades.

Chantelle Gorham, who grew up in the area and has seen firsthand the danger of this stretch of road, is leading the charge to have the Ministry of Transportation make changes that will make the road safer for motorists.

For better reference, the corner of concern intersects with Marina Road. There is a rail crossing there, as well, and a steep hill that leads to the offramp with Onaping and Levack. 

It’s a well-travelled road, and luckily no one has died, but that luck is bound to run out, said Gorham.

Gorham was joined by about a dozen residents on Marina Road on Wednesday to protest the MTO’s lack of willingness to do anything more than put up a new sign and paint the road.

“This corner is the perfect storm of safety issues,” said Gorham. “It was designed more than a quarter century ago, and it was never designed for today’s traffic.”

Transport trucks, in particular, have become bigger and heavier, and drivers are starting to be paid by the load, rather than by the hour, Gorham said. Speed and driver error are also major contributing factors.

“When this corner was designed, they never could have taken into account how much things would change, and I think that’s why we are seeing the increase in transport truck rollovers, collisions with trains, as well as school buses,” she said. 

Gorham said she has suggested solutions to the MTO, such as rumble strips on the steep hill that would alert drivers to the upcoming dangerous curve, but she said she isn’t getting very far. 

“This does not seem to be as big a concern for the MTO as it is for residents, and anyone who drives this stretch of road really is taking their lives in their own hands,” she said. “There is no room for error, and while there haven’t been any fatalities, it’s only a matter of time.”

Gorham said in the last 17 months, there have been four major single transport accidents - two with lost loads of logs, one that struck a train, and another that was carrying chemicals that spilled oil/fuel into the river that supplies Onaping Falls.  

The MTO, she said, bases its decisions on statistics provided by such agencies as the Ontario Provincial Police and the Canadian Pacific Police Service.

“When I requested statistics at the end of 2020, I was given information that involved only two single-vehicle collisions,” she said. “We knew that wasn’t true. There were three transport collisions, as well as a multi-vehicle collision in December, so their statistics and data aren’t correct. Naturally, why would they act on a measly two accidents, but it was actually a lot higher than that.”

It would seem the agencies that are tasked with providing this information to the MTO simply aren’t doing their jobs properly, Gorham said.

“Just because you don’t have the proper statistics, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening,” she said. “You can stick your head in the sand and believe your data, which is obviously wrong, or you can take a genuine look.”

Further exacerbating the situation is the fact the road needs to be closed when these crashes happen, effectively cutting off Onaping and Levack from access to emergency services, should the need arise.

“Road closures effectively cut us off from any emergency services, and that is not good enough,” Gorham said. “I can’t think of anywhere in Ontario that you regularly have transports rolling over or jack-knifing, and nothing is done about.”

Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas said there are many roads in her riding that are too dangerous, and this isn’t her first battle with the MTO to make a roadway safer.

“This stretch of Highway 144 has had so many big accidents, and the people who drive this road are nervous,” said Gélinas. “We know there is going to be another accident.”

Gélinas said she connected with the MTO last year, they visited the area and investigated, and they agreed it wasn’t safe. They promised to make some changes, but that was new signage and new paint on the highway.

“That was in December,” she said. “Since then, there have been at least two major crashes on that corner. I’m not a transportation engineer, but I do have eyes and ears. Nothing has changed. It’s still dangerous, and we all still believe it’s only a matter of time before someone is critically injured or dies as a result.”

The province has transportation engineers who know how to make highways safe, “so why aren’t they doing that here?”

In the past, it took a fatality for the MTO to make changes, she said, referencing her fight to make changes at the intersection of highways 17 and the 69 bypass.  

“I was at them for years,” she said. “After a woman died there, they were right there. They then put in a passing lane and traffic lights.”

Gélinas said she has had many occasions to tell the MTO there are stretches of road in Nickel Belt that are not safe, and “they take some measures that don’t cost a lot of money, but for them to take it seriously, in the past, was a fatality. I don’t want to get to that point because someone dies.”

Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier also attended the protest on Wednesday to lend his support. He said that corner has been an issue for decades.

“As a city councillor, our main issue is the fact that emergency services aren’t able to get past a road closure in the event of a collision,” he said. 

He said while the design of that corner is unsafe for today’s standards, it’s also people's driving habits that are leading to the collisions. 

“There isn’t a whole lot we can do about people’s driving habits, but obviously people are driving too fast,” he said. 

Gorham said she is at a loss as to how to get the MTO to make changes.

“I don’t know what else to do other than shame them into making the changes that are needed, and will undoubtedly cost money, but what are our lives worth to the MTO,” she said.


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Arron Pickard

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