As crews continue to work on the Nipawin bridge on Highway 55 near Nipawin, SK, the safety of the workers and travelers remains an ongoing issue.
One driver recently found out the hard way that tickets in a work zone are triple and was handed an $1,100 fine for excessively exceeding the 30 km/hr speed limit. That doesn’t include any penalties that may also be levied to them by SGI.
Even though they cannot be there all the time, Nipawin RCMP have, and will continue to be, present at the bridge. In addition to RCMP presence, work crews that witness traffic infractions or other dangerous driving can take down license plate numbers and provide a formal report to the RCMP. They are considered credible witnesses and their testimony can be used by the RCMP to issue tickets or press charges for more serious cases.
Learn more about traffic fines in Saskatchewan Are drivers confused by Nipawin bridge construction zone restrictions, or do they just not care?
Speeds on the bridge
Speeding on the bridge, creates hazards for drivers and the work crews. The bridge surface is rough and a lot of drivers are focused on avoiding the drains along the outside, sometimes to the point that they come very close to the work crews. With the exception of on small spot with jersey (concrete) barriers in place, the only thing currently protecting these crews from traffic are delineator posts. Add that to the very narrow space in the construction area these crews have to work in and it’s not unusual for cars to be passing by within inches of those workers.
Going well under the 30 km/hr speed limit on the bridge can also create a hazard. The line of traffic has been held up by drivers traveling as slow as 10 km/hr across the bridge on numerous occasions. Sometimes it’s just a case of being overly cautious or drivers pulling trailers but the ripple effect of the line up of drivers being held back can cause frustrations to rise and it isn’t unusual to see the whole line feverishly racing past the slow driver as soon as they hit the double lanes again, which is still a 30 km/hr zone. This is dangerous as you exit the bridge from either side, but the traffic heading west is the extreme. On the west side there are two temporary roads that lead down to the crew base. Trucks, pedestrians and equipment can come up the bank at any time, which is why it is still considered part of the work zone and the 30 km/hr limit extends until you are a little ways up the hill.
Speeding On the Highway Approaching the Bridge
Highway construction zones across the province have been subject to increased enforcement as a measure to protect both workers and drivers. The stretches of highway as you enter those zones are no exception. Even though you haven’t reached the zone where you can clearly see all the activity, workers can still be present in the extended zones, such as traffic control crews changing or moving signs. Work zone hazards may be present, such as lane reductions, sharp pavement drops or loose stones. Obeying the posted speed will help keep you safe and your vehicle free from damage.
“Road construction crews are not there to inconvenience you, but are necessary to keep Saskatchewan moving forward and improve our highways for everyone,” Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association President Shantel Lipp said , “Transportation professionals working on our highways deserve your respect, so we ask that you please slow down and obey the law as you travel through a work zone.”
SGI, Highways and Infrastructure, & Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association joint press release, June 30, 2017.
“Remember to slow down to 60 km/hr or according to the posted speed limit, even when no workers are present,” Highways and Infrastructure Minister David Marit said. “It may seem frustrating; however, if there is a reduced speed limit, it is usually because there are safety hazards present.”
Running the Red Lights
Drivers running the red lights can occur multiple times per day. Some running those red lights are doing so after waiting in line and following the traffic ahead of them. This may seem harmless to those drivers, but if the group of vehicles going over the bridge has just one extra cautious driver going well under the 30 km/hr speed limit, those drivers, who ran the red light to remain in the pack, run the risk of not reaching the opposing traffic’s light before it turns green. You can assume those waiting cars will see it’s not clear to go, but even a bit of a gap can, and has been, taken as “all clear”. The traffic lights are timed in a manner that a set amount of vehicles can go through and a delay between when they clear the bridge and the opposing traffic gets their green light is intentional, to ensure no stragglers are still crossing and that it is safe for that traffic to go when their light turns green.
On at least one occasion this has resulted in the opposing traffic proceeding before all the vehicles where off the bridge. In that particular case, one car opted to pull into the work zone, which in itself is an incredible risk, no matter how harmless it may seem.
The excuse that you were just following the car in front of you does not absolve you from being found guilty of running a red light.
To address issues with traffic flow, the contractors monitor how well the timing of the lights is doing in achieving safe but efficient traffic flow. Due to the high occurrence of both red light runners and slow drivers, the timing of the lights has had to be extended, causing a longer wait for drivers. With the co-operation of all the travelers using the bridge, it is possible those extended red lights could be reduced somewhat.
And About Those Darn Speed Bumps!!
“I was driving down to the bridge today, doing the posted limit of 80 km. Hit speed bumps that jarred my fillings and wondered what is this all about. If they want to put speed bumps in the 50 or 30 km zones then fine, I have no objection. However up in the 80 km zone where they rattle your tonsils and your suspension is not really called for.”Concern raised by a local resident and member of the Nipawin News Group on Facebook
Approaching the bridge from the west you encounter a set of speed bumps just before the highway descends into the valley. The speed zone at that point is posted at 80 km/hr. Further along, the highway descends into the valley approaching the bridge, the speed is further reduced to 50 km/hr, then 30 km/hr as you reach the traffic lights.
These speed zones are by no means randomly selected. Trained personal work in co-operation with Saskatchewan’s Department of Highways and Infrastructure to ensure all traffic controls meet a workable balance between work zone safety and keeping traffic flowing.
The speed bumps are placed before the crest in the hill to ensure traffic, particularly semi’s and other large vehicles, have ample warning of the decrease in speed from 100 km/hr. Moving them into the 50 km/hr zone would defeat their purpose of providing that early warning. Extending the 50 km/hr zone up to the top of the hill would impede traffic unnecessarily.
Motorists who find the bumps too severe at 80 km/hr are advised to simply slow down ahead of the 50 km/hr zone. Passing to the right of the speed bumps and driving on the paved shoulder is dangerous, particularly if drivers are maintaining that speed of 80 km/hr when doing so. Passing to the left of the bumps, into the oncoming traffic lanes, is not only illegal, but pretty much one of the most irresponsible moves you can make.
Yes. It has happened. And actually almost caused an accident due to the driver’s inability to see traffic about to crest on the hill.
Wide Loads Need to Co-Ordinate With The Bridge Contractor
Incidents of wide loads coming close to or even exceeding the 3.5 metre maximum have also created situations where slow travel is necessary to safely cross the bridge. When this happens, it interferes with the flow of traffic and each time that happens it heightens the hazards for both workers and drivers.
That doesn’t mean wide loads can’t cross though. All the contractor needs is for anyone needing to bring a wide load across to contact them so they can be prepared to either override the traffic lights to provide ample time or provide flaggers to help you safely across the bridge and move delineator posts, if necessary. The bridge load width is restricted to 3.5 metres, however a slightly wider load might be accommodated, with advance notice. Once the jersey (concrete) barriers are in place, which will happen later in the project, those slightly wider loads are unlikely to be accommodated anymore.
If your situation does not allow you time to give advance notice, at very least, hold off crossing the bridge until you have garnered the attention of the crew and they can arrange to ensure a safe crossing for you.
National Day of Mourning; Highway Workers Remembered
The frequency of speeding in the construction zone and drivers running the red lights is alarmingly high, a factor that really stands out as Canada just observed our National Day of Mourning, on Sunday April 28th. The day is dedicated to remembering those who have lost their lives, or suffered injury or illness on the job or due to a work-related tragedy.
Among those who’ve lost their lives on Saskatchewan highway construction work sites, was 18 year old Ashley Dawn Richards, a young woman who was working as a flag person when she was killed by a driver who wasn’t paying attention to the work zone restrictions. Ashley was standing with her back to the oncoming SUV, flagging traffic coming from the other direction. The driver, Keith Dunford, claimed in his court testimony that he was distracted by papers blowing around in his vehicle. He had just passed two semis in the construction line up when he struck Ashley.
Ashley had just recently moved to Saskatchewan from New Brunswick with her partner, Ben Diprose with plans for a new wonderful life here. Ashley was pregnant with her and Ben’s first child. But Ben did not just have to bear the burden of being told the love of his life and their unborn child had been taken from them. He had to watch it happen.
Ben was working nearby with a paving crew and saw it all happen. In an interview with CBC News Ben told his heart wrenching story;
“He said the SUV struck her from behind and sent her flying. He ran to her side. “I started screaming and praying to God to take me. It wasn’t fair — she was supposed to be a mom,” he said. “She was bleeding to death in my arms and there was nothing I could do.”
Diprose held her as he died. “She told me she loved me. She told me never to take her back home. I said, ‘Ashley, it’s going to be alright.’ She said, ‘Don’t bury me back home,‘” he said. “I’ll never be the same. That was the one girl I gave everything up for. It didn’t matter what it was, how big or how small, I was willing to do it.“CBC News Aug 28, 2012
In 2015, Keith Dunford was charged with dangerous driving causing death and subsequently sentenced to serve 2 years less a day in jail. Dunford lost an appeal to The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in 2017.
An article in the Regina Leader Post provides more details and highlighted a vital component of why that appeal was denied, “The court echoed Krogan’s findings that what is “normal” driving behaviour in a regular highway driving situation is not the same as what must be demonstrated in a construction zone. They added a “plethora of signs” in a construction zone should serve as a “constant reminder of the enhanced risk in the zone and the requirement of attentiveness,” rather than cause drivers to become numb to their message.”
In Saskatchewan in the month of March, RCMP issued thousands of tickets for speeding and various types of distracted driving;
- 8,734 speeding/aggressive driving offences
- 748 distracted driving offences
- 319 impaired driving offences
The term “aggressive driving” refers to a number of offences that include driving too fast for road conditions, running red lights, not stopping at stop signs, stunting, racing, or passing to the right on a highway.
Editor’s note: correction – the article originally stated going around the speed bumps on the shoulder is illegal, however Nipawin RCMP who responded after publication, have stated “there is no offence for pulling onto the shoulder of the road”. The article has been updated to remove the reference to it being illegal.