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Alberta assistant deputy minister outlines provincial plans

Posted: May 1, 2017 by John G. Smith

BANFF, AB – Shaun Hammond, Alberta Transportation’s assistant deputy minister – safety policy and engineering, offered government views on a broad range of issues during the Alberta Motor Transport Association’s annual meeting in Banff on Friday.

Future incentives for fuel-saving spec’s?: Federal plans for emissions rules to further limit Greenhouse Gases were unveiled on March 1. But Hammond also expects there will be incentives to adopt some of the related fuel-saving equipment. “In what form, I don’t know. They haven’t got that far yet,” he says. “Perhaps the federal government will use some of the revenue from the carbon tax and move it into this area.” The challenge at this point is that the provincial and federal governments don’t yet know exactly how much carbon tax revenue will be available, he adds.

A plan for highway infrastructure: “As long as we can get our products through to tidewater, that’s important for us,” Hammond said, referring to the need to align Alberta infrastructure investments with neighboring jurisdictions. And the potential for a north-south corridor between Fort McMurray and Peace River is “in the thinking stage”, while twinning on Highway 3 has already begun. Transportation hubs are emerging around ring roads, he adds. Smaller municipalities are introducing plans for small logistics centers where local products can come together before traveling further afield. “We’re trying to figure out that first-mile problem.”

Permits for 244-inch tractor lengths: Alberta intersections are designed for shorter wheelbases, but the province is looking at ways to allow wheelbases above 244 inches, Hammond says.

A promise for more rest areas: There are plans to increase the number of truck-accessible rest areas in the province. “Part of the review is to look at economically feasible locations along the provincial highway network that have ample parking, amenities for food and fuel,” he says. And his boss has made opening new rest areas a priority. “There are some municipalities up in the rural areas on the route that are taking a look at this and saying, ‘Wait a moment. We’ve got land …'” he added.

Partners in Compliance support: The provincial government wants to know what the Partners in Compliance program will look like in 2025 as it explores the program’s mandate and potential financial support. “Then I’ve got a target to shoot for, and we have an investment strategy,” Hammond says. Carriers with excellent safety ratings can join that program to enjoy benefits such as bypassing roadside inspections.

Mandatory Entry Level Training: “The goal of improving commercial driver training is a core objective of the department’s Transportation Safety Plan,” Hammond says. But there are questions to answer, such as how the training of Temporary Foreign Workers would be addressed. And what about a kid who grew up driving on a farm, and only wants the licence to haul farm produce locally, he asks.

Electronic Logging Devices: Alberta wants the federal government to embrace a weight threshold of 11,794 kilograms when requiring Electronic Logging Devices, aligning with its current limit that applies to Hours of Service rules. Federally the weight limits are set at 4,500 kilograms. But those lighter weights could apply to small hot shot vehicles and landscapers, potentially putting those operations out of business, he said.

Wide-base single tires: Early data from a pilot project on wide-base single tires is proving potential fuel-efficiency gains, but pavement engineers are concerned about how they could affect infrastructure life. A 20-year lifespan for a road could be reduced to 19.1 years, they stress. But the wide-base singles also would be supported by Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems, Hammond counters. “I’ve never seen a set of duals that are perfectly inflated and matched.” It’s not just the engineers who are presenting barriers, though. Municipal officials in Calgary say they’ll never allow it on road under their watch. “Any municipality is the lord and master of our roads, and that’s where our problem lies with making it universal,” he observes.

Tri-drive permits: The regulations that govern vehicle weights and dimensions are being updated to allow tri-drive tractors without provincial permits. It is just taking time.

The focus on safety: Alberta is focused on several health and safety issues including fatigue, distraction, impaired driving, and seat belts. “We have to do a better job of educating all drivers around the issue of safety around commercial vehicles,” Hammond said.

Protecting emissions systems: Alberta is looking for ways to ensure carriers don’t alter vehicle emissions systems, but there are still concerns from northern carriers who say the equipment won’t work in cold conditions. “My gut on this is it’s coming, and we are getting past the technical issues,” Hammond says of the additional enforcement. Expect roadside inspections to follow when those issues are addressed.

An interchange for Grande Prairie: Plans for a Highway 43X bypass are on the construction program, and will be completed in the fall of 2018, Hammond says.

The New West Partnership: While many gains have been made in harmonizing weights and dimensions, there are limits. “BC can’t handle our extended lengths on some of their highways,” he says. But barriers are being removed.

Protecting cyclists and pedestrians: Alberta is co-chairing a Vulnerable Road User Task Force with Transport Canada, and one of the goals in protecting cyclists and pedestrians is to ensure that the solutions are not “over-regulated”, Hammond promises. Emerging technology could help. But some changes may have nothing to do with trucks at all. Road engineering might be part of the solutions, he said.

 

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