Fixing the Fraser Valley’s deadliest stretch of highway

Vedder Canal bridge used to be one of the deadliest spots in the Fraser Valley; it's been 10 years since the last fatal accident

By Tyler Olsen | October 15, 2021 |6:14 am

The Vedder Canal bridge was once one of the deadliest spots in the Fraser Valley. But this fall will mark a decade since the most recent fatal crash on the crossing.

That’s notable mostly because of just how dangerous the bridge used to be. And while it’s impossible to know what would have been, or to eliminate all factors, hindsight suggests that two policy changes may have had a significant impact in reducing the danger, once they were finally enacted. It also shows how a highway that meets certain “standards” can be made safer.

Between 2004 and 2011, five people died in four separate fatal crashes at or near the bridge. In addition to the narrowing of the highway that occurs at most bridges, the Trans Canada Highway also changes elevations approaching the canal, and features the most significant curve west of Chilliwack. In 2006, 2008, and 2010 large trucks left the highway, barrelled through a barrier, and ended up in the canal below.

In 2010, Chilliwack MLA John Les insisted the bridge was safe and “meets applicable standards,” while announcing that more would be done to reduce the risk of deadly accidents. That year concrete barriers were added to the bridge, along with a range of new signs and markings.

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The changes weren’t a full cure: a year later two people died when their car left the highway prior to the bridge and hurtled into the canal. (That car may have left the road before the barriers.) But since that incident there hasn’t been another fatal accident. Data provided to the Current suggests that serious crashes have also decreased, particularly those heading east. (Westbound serious crashes have stayed mostly level.)

The most significant change between fatal crashes and serious ones seems to be that fewer cars are ending up in the canal. Although there was a major crash in 2013 that involved more than a dozen cars and several injuries, no one died. The Current could not find a report of a crash that resulted in a vehicle in the canal since that 2011 fatal incident.

There has also been another change that may have reduced the likelihood of deadly crashes: in November of 2018, the speed limit between Abbotsford and Hope was reduced from 110 km/h(no space before km/h) to 100 km/h. (Speeds were reduced on 15 highway segments across the province.) The change appears to have made a considerable impact on the speed of traffic. Near Evans Road in Chilliwack, where highway speeds are regularly measured, the number of cars clocked travelling faster than 130km/h dropped by half between 2017 and 2019.

The Current asked the province about its highway standards, given that the canal bridge met those standards while also bearing witness to regular fatal crashes. A Ministry of Transportation spokesperson wrote in an email that the bridge “is an older bridge built to meet the standards of its day.” Other safety features enhance safety and meet current standards, and the ministry now uses the Canadian Highway Bridge Design Code, which was updated in 2014, superseding previous versions.

Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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