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Ice Follies - Port Mann Bridge Edition


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First it was ice bombs... and now Ice Follies with 40 vehicles involved in accidents during the morning rush hour as the bridge deck turned into an ice rink.

The company that runs the new Port Mann Bridge has ordered daily de-icing to prevent a repeat of the mayhem that was Thursday morning's rush hour, when 40 vehicles were involved in collisions.

Max Logan, spokesman for Transportation Investment Corp., apologized to drivers Thursday and said the B.C. Crown corporation is "redoubling its efforts" to ensure the bridge is safe for winter driving.

Mainroad Lower Mainland Contracting, which does the winter maintenance, will apply a saltwater solution at least once a day as well as salt crystals when needed, Logan said.

The brine had last been applied to the bridge deck at 4 a.m. on Wednesday and was expected to be effective for 48 hours. But just 26 hours later — and despite Mainroad checking road and air temperature on the bridge several times between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. to measure the potential for icing — the driving surface suddenly turned icy.

The ice, poor visibility in fog and speed were blamed for the crashes.

Surrey deputy fire chief Karen Fry said the bridge was "a mess" and it was even difficult to get tow trucks onto the bridge to remove damaged vehicles. Paramedics gave first aid to several people and one person was taken to hospital with minor injuries. TransLink temporarily rerouted the No. 555 express bus to Surrey City Centre.

"Despite [Mainroad's] efforts, the concentration of saltwater brine solution was not sufficient," Logan said. "It's a disappointing morning for sure.

"Drivers are expecting to have a reliable free-flowing commute. . . . Obviously we ask them to be mindful of winter conditions, but there absolutely cannot be a repeat of this. With more salting and application of the brine we don't expect these conditions to occur again."

Drivers described the bridge as a sheet of ice.

Langley resident Greg Sadowski said he wasn't surprised that traffic was spinning out of control on ice, noting that "it's crazy" coming down the hill on the Surrey side of the bridge even when the road is dry.

"I knew if they didn't come out with the ice team it was going to be a gong show and it certainly was," he said.

Amanda Thomas, who left her Fraser Heights home at 5:30 a.m. Thursday and headed west across the bridge, said it didn't seem slippery, but she drove slower than usual, under the speed limit, because it was hard to see. She got halfway across the bridge when she noticed a row of red tail lights, and stopped her car. "I figured there must be an accident up ahead, probably because of the fog," Thomas said.

Seconds later, she heard a horn blaring. Looking in her rear-view mirror, she saw an SUV barrelling down the HOV lane beside her. "The car ahead had nowhere to go. The SUV swerved to the left, trying to get around the car and not hit him directly from behind," Thomas said. "He hit the (concrete) barriers, then the car, which hit another car and so on."

Stunned, Thomas looked in her mirror again and saw an SUV coming up behind her. She inched her car forward and to the right. The SUV missed her Honda Civic but struck cars in front of her.

"I told my friend I felt like I was in the middle of an action movie," she said. "They were going really fast. My opinion is they were driving like they usually drive to work, even though it was foggy."

RCMP Sgt. Peter Thiessen said the situation was compounded by similar icy conditions near 264th Avenue in Langley. He wasn't aware of similar problems on other major Metro Vancouver bridges.

Logan said it is up to Mainroad to determine when brine or crystals are applied, but both TI Corp. and Mainroad are reviewing their policies. Brine is typically used for prevention, he said, while crystal salt is applied once its starts to snow or to prevent black ice.

"The contract essentially says they are responsible to make sure ice does not build up on the highway," he said. "It's not prescriptive, it's focused on what the expectation is. They did not meet the expectation."

Mainroad spokeswoman Niki Taylor said the company had been instructed by the B.C. ministry of transportation not to speak with the media. The provincial government did not return calls.

Logan said the new bridge has asphalt road surfaces similar to those on the old crossing, which also got brine every 48 hours in winter.

He said six patrols checked the bridge overnight and didn't find any signs of ice accumulations as of 5 a.m.

He said the situation Thursday "was likely a combination of the weather and the fog. When the humidity is high, it can lead to rapid ice accumulation," he said. "The other factor was the speed of traffic. Drivers were travelling at considering higher rates of speed."

In the past, he said, drivers would have being going much slower because the old bridge was routinely congested.

Last month, shortly after the new bridge opened, several vehicles were damaged when ice fell from the bridge structure.

One person was hit on the head by ice that fell off the bridge's cable supports and through her roof.

Patrick Smith, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University, said there are always problems with new mega projects.

"The test will be if we have three more snow events between now and Easter and we have similar problems," he said.

"The test will be we'd better not see this again."


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Down-shift/lay off the brakes would also help considerably.

But of course, we can't expect people to drive properly though. I wasn't on the deck so I really have no idea of the deck conditions, but I find it hard to believe the bridge just instantly turning into a big ice sheet. People need to not follow so close and for the love of god figure out a better way of slowing your speed other than hammering on your brakes.

I swear Johnson hill is cursed!!!

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I drove over the bridge early this morning before the accidents, and yeah, it was slippery but I slowed down and gave myself space.

Maybe idiots shouldn't try flying over the bridge while tailgating during winter. This isn't the bridge fault, it's dumbass drivers doing dumbass driving.

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This time I am blaming the drivers

I heard 3 separate interviews and all 3 people had no problems crossing the bridge at a reasonable speed for the conditions even 1 guy went on to say he was traveling about 80 to 85 kph in the left lane and people in the HOV were passing him at a speed which he estimated at 100 or 105 kph

I am not defending the maintenance crew as they should of been out there throughout the night if they knew the fog was coming in and the below 0 temperatures but the drivers need to use some common sense when conditions are sub par

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I drove over the bridge early this morning before the accidents, and yeah, it was slippery but I slowed down and gave myself space.

Maybe idiots shouldn't try flying over the bridge while tailgating during winter. This isn't the bridge fault, it's dumbass drivers doing dumbass driving.

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