Commissioner says more collaboration may have reduced risk on Hamilton’s RHVP

Click to play video: 'Hamilton city council approves judicial inquiry over lost study'
Hamilton city council approves judicial inquiry over lost study
A 2013 friction test that cited concerns with the Red Hill Valley Parkway was never released publicly. A newly approved probe by a Superior Court judge will determine why. Mark Carcasole reports – Mar 21, 2019

A commissioner tasked with making recommendations to the city of Hamilton, Ont. around a major roadway, is suggesting multiple actions, including reinforcing responsibility within its public works division.

Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel, who facilitated the city-ordered Red Hill Valley Parkway Inquiry (RHVPI), insists a “siloed approach” – where departments didn’t collaborate with one another – contributed to a lack of action in resolving alleged safety issues on the thoroughfare for several years.

In his final report, Wilton-Siegel submitted a lack of clarified responsibilities among the city’s Traffic group and Engineering Services was an issue and proposes mechanisms be put in place “to reinforce” joint responsibility of the RHVP and Lincoln Alexander Parkway (LINC)

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“The Public Works department should treat traffic safety on the RHVP and the LINC as a shared responsibility of all members of the department,” Siegel said in his first recommendation.

The justice is also suggesting Public Works adopt processes for a more comprehensive safety approach similar to that of edicts from the Ministry of Transportation, and develop a library of third-party reports as well as more consistent reporting to council and committees.

Accurate disclosure to the media and public as well as improving preparation of consultants’ and city staff reports was also advised.

How Tradewind Report not shared amongst city staff, council

Over some five years, the RHVPI interviewed dozens of witnesses and reviewed 130,000 documents at the request of Hamilton’s city council in an effort to discover why one of two 2014 third-party road reports was not disclosed to city staff and council.

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The examination was commissioned in 2019 following the uncovering of the road surface studies by a city engineer suggesting remedial action was required amid concerns over friction levels in some areas of the RHVP being below safety standards.

At the root of the probe are questions about a Tradewind Scientific Ltd. report that was not shared with council and staff.

In his assessment, Wilton-Siegel suggested that if the then-director of engineering services had come forward with one of the traffic safety consultants’ reports there could have been fewer crashes.

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He went as far as to say the engineering services director at the time was “careless and fell below his responsibilities” through “a lack of interest in friction testing,” citing a 2017 Hamilton Spectator story in which the director suggested the Tradewind Report was “inconclusive” because it applied a standard from the UK.

“Accordingly, it is logical to assume that the failure to disclose the Tradewind Report, or the information and recommendations contained in the report, resulted in users of the RHVP being exposed to more risk than would have been the case if those countermeasures had been implemented earlier,” Wilton-Siegel stated.

Despite the allegations, the inquiry cannot make findings of civil or criminal liability, nor conclude that any individual has breached any legal standard that would result in civil or criminal liability or professional discipline.

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RHVPI approved by Hamilton council in 2019

The RHVP opened in 2007 and recorded its first fatal collision in 2012, and a second in 2015, sparking concerns over how the surface handled friction and may have played a part in the crashes.

Some councillors began pressing for an investigation from city staff as early as 2013 following numerous complaints and suspicions over its safety.

By 2018, six people had died in collisions on the RHVP.

Council was advised of the Tradewind report findings by public works in January 2019.

Commissioner Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel at a public session for residents in 2019 at city hall. Lisa Polewski / Global News

A public release and apology over the manner and timing of its disclosure would be issued by the city not long after.

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The Red Hill Valley Parkway Inquiry (RHVPI) would be launched in April of that year and centered around the Tradewind report and why it was allegedly buried for close to six years.

Several of the crashes on that stretch of roadway, some of them fatal, spurred dozens of lawsuits filed against the city, including a $250-million class-action alleging improper design and maintenance of the RHVP.

A judge dismissed that claim in 2022.

RHVP collision rates higher than provincial averages

The commissioner revealed the RHVP’s overall collision rates were higher than provincial averages and that “Hot Spot” sections were also identified in a 2015 CIMA+ report stating the highest concentration of collisions occurred at specific locations that broadly fell between Greenhill Avenue and Queenston Road.

He also said the RHVP had an abnormally high proportion of wet road collisions and that friction levels declined between 2007 to 2014 before they “levelled off.”

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The “relatively low” friction levels were a “likely contributor to collisions” by 2013 and 2014 due to declining skid resistance levels and potentially the location of interchanges and ramps, as well as the relationship between the design speed and the posted speed could be contributors, Wilton-Siegel wrote.

The first resurfacing of the roadway began in the spring of 2019, much earlier than the originally anticipated date of 2028 recommended by staff after the roadway’s construction.

Staff cited higher than anticipated traffic volume as one of the reasons for the change.

City commits to improve road safety and public trust

Hamilton’s current mayor Andrea Horwath says she’s committed to ensuring more transparency and coordination between city departments after the RHVPI recommendations.

In a statement following the release, Horwath pointed to actions the city has already taken, including the repaving of the RHVP in May and July of 2019.

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She also pointed to speed limits that have been reduced to 80 kilometres per hour on both sides of the parkway between Dartnall Road and Greenhill Avenue.

A temporary Chief Road Official position has also been installed to “improve operating procedures related to planning, design, construction, and maintenance” for city roadways.

Development and ongoing implementation of a records policy, disclosure protocol and public disclosure of third-party reports are also in the works.

“Although this incident occurred long before the current Council’s term, I regret the serious breach of public trust and am absolutely committed to preventing anything like this from happening again,” Horwath said.

“I would like to personally express my remorse to the families who have been impacted by tragic accidents on the Red Hill Valley Parkway.”

City staff will review the inquiry’s findings over the next few days, according to Horwath.

Recommendations are expected to be discussed in the Dec. 6 General Issues Committee where a response is expected from council and next steps outlined in a compliance process.

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