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Updated: Humboldt driver pleads guilty in crash, intersection to be upgraded

Posted: January 9, 2019 by Derek Clouthier

Highway upgrades are coming to the intersections of Hwy. 35 and 335, scene of the crash that killed 16 and injured 13. (Canadian Press photo)

REGINA, Sask. – There will be no prolonged trial for the truck driver involved in the fatal crash with a bus carrying members of the Humboldt Broncos. Jaskirat Singh Sidhu has pled guilty to all charges against him – 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death, and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

All that remains in this case is the sentencing, scheduled to being Jan. 28.

But the Saskatchewan collision itself continues to lead to a wide series of changes and recommendations – including upgrades to the very Highway 35 and 335 intersection where the crash occurred.

Those upgrades emerge through a 70-page review by McElhanney Consulting Services, which explored everything from the location’s layout, to the collision, traffic, and human factors. There are 13 recommendations in all, including a call for better sightlines.

Internal traffic engineering reviews are standard practice after any fatal collision on a Saskatchewan highway. But Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure spokesman Doug Wakabayashi said the serious nature of the crash, public attention and potential litigation arising from the collision led the Ministry of Justice to commission an independent consulting engineer to complete the review.

And the government is taking the recommendations seriously.

“The Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure will implement all 13 recommendations,” said Wakabayashi, “reconfirming the previous government’s commitment to implement all recommendations resulting from the review.”

Priority number one is to add various sign related enhancements to the intersection. At an estimated cost of $15-$18,000, this is viewed as something that would offer a high benefit related to the cost, and can be completed in a short timeframe.

The report also suggests installing “Stop” and “Stop Ahead” pavement messages to warn motorists of the intersection ahead.

Improving sightlines ranks third on the priority list. This would involve negotiating with private landowners for the removal of trees, which the report indicates is “desirable,” at an estimated cost of $15,000, depending on negotiations.

Signs on Hwy. 35 will also be raised higher to improve visibility of approaching vehicles.

Construction of a new roadside memorial and access road, as well as the removal of a gravel roadway that connects the highways, rounds out the report’s high-priority recommendations that would offer the best cost benefits. The study suggests that the gravel road could confuse motorists approaching the intersection. Drivers could be unsure where signaling drivers are going, or may not anticipate braking and turning vehicles for the road given its close proximity to the intersection.

The installation of rumble strips on Hwy. 335 where it approaches the intersection would come at the hefty cost of $150,000 due to the need to repave the road so it’s thick enough to mill.

Rounding out the list of proposals, the study suggests widening the shoulders of both highways to two meters, up from 1.5 meters – offering more room for errant vehicles to recover – but that’s a long-term strategy for the next decade. It would cost $200,000 per kilometer per side.

Human factors in the crash

McElhanney also looked at human factors that could have contributed to the Humboldt collision.

The study suggests motorists could assume that Hwy. 335 is an uncontrolled roadway at the intersection with Hwy. 35, as there are no controlled stops for some distance in both directions from Hwy. 35. The report also identifies “westbound tunnel vision” that could become an issue because of the road alignment, horizon, and trees and powerlines next to the highway.

McElhanney suggests tunnel vision can cause motorists to overlook Hwy. 35 and the accompanying stop sign, especially when the surface is wet or the sun is glaring.

Driver fatigue was also examined, and how it poses a “high mental workload” for those on Hwy. 35. Contributing to the issue are railway crossings close to the intersection, and offset intersections between them. Existing signage was also seen as something that could cause a higher potential for driver error around the intersection.

The location is remote, and there is a higher chance that the approaching motorists will be fatigued, the report says.

The study also indicates a high number of tractor-trailers pass through the intersection, suggesting a large number of long-haul trips through the area.

Still, despite the high-profile crash last April 6, the report didn’t find the intersection to have a high overall frequency of collisions, high-severity collisions, or significant collision trends.

Nicole Sinclair, director of policy and communications for the Saskatchewan Trucking Association (STA), said any and all research, adjustments, and upgrades that improve safety on provincial highways are welcome.

“The intersection in question certainly has been the scene of great tragedy,” said Sinclair. “The findings in this report address the issues and provide insight on how Saskatchewan can work toward safer roads.”

– A typographical error in an earlier version of this story failed to reference the date for sentencing. Today’s Trucking regrets the error.

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