Missing flaggers as traffic backs up over long weekend

Not enough time assigned for flaggers by Ministry of Transportation, according to Radium councillors and RCMP Sgt.

Long weekends in the Valley are notorious for an increase in visitor traffic. With that in mind, local communities and RCMP prepare for the influx every summer. This past May long weekend was no exception. In fact, the Village of Radium Hot Springs and RCMP thought the presence of flaggers at the four-way stop along Highway 93/ 95 would alleviate the congestion.

Unfortunately, Radium was plagued yet again by high volume traffic as the flaggers that were to be supplied by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure were noticeably absent.

“We need some guarantees– everybody knows on long weekends the valley’s flooded,” said councillor Ron Verboom.

Radium councillors questioned the lack of flaggers at the intersection during their council meeting on May 24th. Councillor Todd Logan asked what times were the flaggers supposed to be there; Councillor Tyler McCauley adding he was at the intersection at 8:30 p.m. and traffic was still backed up as far as you could see.

It wasn’t just council raising concerns over the lack of flagger; Sergeant Bob Vatamaniuck dealt with the traffic congestion first-hand on Friday, May 19th.

“My involvement in that I had done some enhanced traffic enforcement through the park Friday afternoon and I was coming back to help patrol some of the campgrounds in the area down in the Valley at about 5:00 p.m. I came by the pools and was caught in that backlog of high-volume, slow moving traffic,” said Sgt. Vatamaniuck.

After spending 23 minutes getting from the tunnels above the pool to the four-way stop he pulled over to begin flagging people through the intersection.

“I got through the intersection and then pulled over to the side and I started to grab my things to begin flagging on their behalf. The flag people might have been on a break, I’m not sure, but were not engaged. They were sitting in their truck in the parking lot of the Petro Canada,” said Sgt. Vatamaniuck. “I think when they saw me maneuvering to get my high-visibility vest and start making calls to let everybody know where I was going to be, they quickly became engaged in flagging and then traffic started moving at quite a reasonable rate after that.”

For Sgt. Vatamaniuck, seeing the flaggers sitting in their truck when he finally got through the traffic congestion was disappointing, knowing that it was a high volume time and they weren’t being engaged as proficiently as they could have.

“This year we had hoped it was going to get better with the promise of some flag people down at the four-way stop that would keep the high volume traffic moving and keep that backlog hopefully to a minimum,” he said.

Knowing that traffic congestion would be high again on Monday, May, 22nd, the sergeant went to the intersection on his day off to monitor the situation. He chose to monitor the area for two hours after lunch and before supper time to see if the situation improved.

“Although the indications there was going to be some flag people at the intersection was still up, like the warning signs on the roadside were still up, the flag people were not engaged that entire time,” said Sgt. Vatamaniuck. He stated, “We want to have a welcome atmosphere here in the Columbia Valley and the RCMP is no different. We want people to come here, have a good time, enjoy the resources that are available here.”

“We want them to do that in an enjoyable manner, if simply engaging some flag people to get traffic moving at a reasonable rate I think is more than fair to ask and it’s unfortunate that it didn’t work out the way we have hoped,” said Sgt. Vatamaniuck.

After repeated attempts to get a statement, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure did not provide comment to the Echo regarding the flaggers’ absence. A spokesperson for the ministry however did confirm full-time active flagging was to be used as needed during peak times Friday 12-6 p.m. and Monday 12- 5 p.m..

“During the past long weekend, flaggers were available but to only intervene when traffic queues backed up at the 4-way stop. While this has worked well in the past, the higher-then-expected volumes over the long weekend created some traffic flow issues.” said public affairs officer Sonia Lowe.