November 9, 2016 9:23 pm

Avalanche control technology to shorten Trans Canada closures

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It’s not unusual for lengthy highway closures on the Trans Canada to leave motorists stranded each winter.

The regular closures have helped Revelstoke earn the nickname Revelstuck.

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Now the province has shelled out $6 million to install new avalanche control systems to try to minimize those shut downs in a problem area at Three Valley Gap.

The traditional method of triggering avalanches, to keep a slide from coming down unexpectedly on the highway, is to have technicians drop explosives out of a helicopter.

However, that requires daylight and passable weather.

“If we have an avalanche closure at night, we are actually not able to fly in the helicopter till the next morning or until the weather improves. So the highway would have to stay closed that entire period of time,” explained Robb Andersen who manages snow, avalanche and weather programs for the Ministry of Transportation.

“With traditional helicopter bombing you have to be able to fly so you are restricted by weather and by light.”

In an effort to change that, the province has installed four new systems in the Three Valley Gap area. They will allow avalanche technicians to trigger slides remotely.

“With this new system we are going to be able to control the hazard 24/7,” said Andersen.

“That is going to greatly improve our opportunity to reduce the hazard and get the highway open more quickly and avoid these long overnight closures.”

The full eight tower set up is not expected to be operational until next winter. That means this year crews will be relying on a mixture of old methods and new technology.

“Where we’ve been able to place the towers this year are in…the paths that produce the largest avalanches so it is going to be a big help,” said Andersen.

For the mayor of Revelstoke it’s a welcome investment in keeping his community moving.

“It will reduce the amount of road closures, and it will make traveling through here safer, easier and faster,” said Mark McKee.

Read More: Snowshed at Three Valley Gap not the solution to frequent Trans-Canada closures: Transportation Ministry

The new remote systems are also expected to reduce the risk for avalanche technicians who won’t have to fly in questionable weather.

“Sometimes the technicians will fly in poor weather because we want to get the highway open right away. There is a certain amount of risk associated with that,” said Andersen.

“Having the ability to be able to use the towers to control the avalanche and reduce the risk will make it safer for the traveling public, make the highway corridor more reliable through the Three Valley Gap, and also reduces the risk to the avalanche technicians who have to fly in those kind of poor conditions at times.”

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