MONCTON, N.B. – Trucks gathering on the New Brunswick roadside waiting out Confederation Bridge closures are an accident waiting to happen, according to a driver who regularly makes the trip across the bridge. Stirling Provencher, a...
MONCTON, N.B. – Trucks gathering on the New Brunswick roadside waiting out Confederation Bridge closures are an accident waiting to happen, according to a driver who regularly makes the trip across the bridge. Stirling Provencher, a Prince Edward Island-based trucker who hauls refrigerated produce to the mainland, says the bridge closures – caused by high winds and usually only affecting the big trucks – are a much bigger issue than some might like to admit. His call for action on the New Brunswick side comes after earlier CBC and Truck News reports focusing on the P.E.I. side of the bridge, where the provincial government has taken steps to provide a place where trucks can at least get off the road safely to wait out the storms. And while Provencher isn’t thrilled with the Island side’s facilities either, he admits they’re a lot better than what the New Brunswick government offers currently, which he says is basically nothing.
“There were 550 trucks waiting there the last windstorm and they stretched for 2.5 kilometres,” Provencher told Truck News, adding that he was one of those truckers left twisting in the wind on the New Brunswick side. “You’re on the side of the road, and it’s not a wide highway – just a normal highway with shoulders. You’re just sitting there and if you leave your lights on you have to leave the truck running, which companies frown upon.” On the other hand, he said, shutting off the trucks and their lights creates a whole different problem. “You think that would be a danger?”
Making the situation worse is a lack of facilities near the south end of the bridge. “There’s nothing,” he pointed out, “so where do you go to the washroom?” He noted that there’s a bush beside the highway, saying “You could probably go down through the ditch and over to the bush, but that’s all there is for washroom facilities. And there’s moose and bear there and I don’t know how often you’d like to be out with them.” Provencher said he doesn’t mind seeing such wildlife, but “I don’t like going out there.”
The trucker claimed the nearest parking area that offers restroom facilities is 70 kilometres away and, since the bridge sometimes only re-opens for an hour (and can be closed for up to 14 hours or so), drivers may not be able to make it across before it’s closed to them again. He admitted there haven’t been any accidents involving parked trucks on the roadside yet, but asks “Is that what it’s going to take, a fatality, to do something? We hope not.”
The problem really only affects trucks, he noted, because the high winds rarely cause car traffic to be prevented from crossing. That, however, actually makes the problem worse. “Cars coming and going can be a danger.”
Provencher said he’s heard that there have been talks about creating a truck-friendly area on the south side, but “so far there’s nothing substantial. Hopefully the government will do something soon.”
Or maybe not. Truck News was unable to learn anything about what, if anything, the New Brunswick government plans to do to address the situation. Inquiries to the Transportation Ministry in December 2011, including a direct query to Minister Claude Williams himself, elicited no response.
It doesn’t appear to be a big deal to at least one industry rep, however. According to Jean Marc Picard, executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association, his organization is aware of the situation but, according to his members, “Most of them say when the bridge is closed they just turn around and go home.” That, of course, isn’t possible if your home is on the Island.
Speaking in an earlier interview with Truck News, Picard also said most of the closures don’t catch the industry by surprise anyway. “The company that manages the bridge sends out weather advisories, and all the companies have either e-mails or instant messages – and we put it on our Web site and send messages to our members, or they can call,” he explained. Picard said that pressing the government to step up to the plate hasn’t been a priority for his organization. “We addressed it at one public consultation,” he told Truck News, “but there are other issues that have been more pressing over the past year. It’s been on the back burner.”
That sticks in Provencher’s craw, however. “For people who think there’s no problem,” he says, “if they want to come with me and sit there for 20-some hours and not go to the washroom or, if they do, maybe fall in the ditch and maybe break a leg or something…”
It looks as if, so far at least, it may be up to the private sector to ride to the truckers’ rescue and to create a workable solution.