Calls for highway roundabouts get louder in wake of Humboldt bus crash

Click to play video: 'Could roundabouts make rural highway intersections safer?' Could roundabouts make rural highway intersections safer?
WATCH ABOVE: Several provinces are looking at roundabouts - a relatively simple and inexpensive solution - to improve highway safety. Fletcher Kent reports – Apr 19, 2018

Five years ago, Wanda Campbell’s 17-year-old son had a craving for fast food.

Lane Antosh left his Pilot Butte, Sask. home and drove to Dairy Queen. As he made a left hand turn onto the Trans-Canada Highway, he was struck and killed.

“He certainly wasn’t the first one or the last one to be killed.

“There were six people that were killed in this intersection,” said Campbell, as she stood next to the highway.

However, in part due to her work, the intersection is quite different than it was the day Campbell’s son died.

Cars and trucks must navigate a roundabout to get through the intersection.

READ MORE: Roundabout coming to major Manitoba highway intersection 

Campbell spent years pushing for something to slow traffic down there and she’s pleased with the eventual response.

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“If there’s a roundabout there, they have to stop or they have to slow down. They don’t have a choice. It won’t be: ‘Oh, I didn’t see.'”

The issue takes on added relevance after the Humboldt Broncos bus crash April 6 that killed 16 people on a Saskatchewan highway near Tisdale.

FULL COVERAGE: Humboldt Broncos Bus Tragedy

RCMP are still investigating but on Thursday, officers said the tractor trailer involved in the crash was in the intersection at the time of the collision. There is a stop sign on the highway the tractor trailer was using. The Broncos’ bus had no stop sign.

Saskatchewan Highways & Transportation is investigating to see how best to improve safety at the intersection where the deadly crash happened.

READ MORE: Tractor-trailer in intersection at time of Humboldt Broncos bus crash: RCMP 

There are studies to show roundabouts, like the one used near Pilot Butte, improve safety.

The U.S.-based Transportation Research Board found building highway roundabouts reduces fatalities by 90 per cent, injuries by 80 per cent and total collisions by 40 per cent.

They’re cheaper than overpasses to build and cheaper to operate than traffic lights.

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Canadian provinces are building more roundabouts. There are about 400 nation-wide.

In Saskatchewan, there is the one Campbell pushed for. Neighbouring Manitoba is currently building its first.

In Alberta, there are 11 with seven more in the planning stages. Alberta policy says that the roundabout is the preferred option on roads that require more than a two-way stop sign. If planners choose lights or a form of traffic control other than a roundabout, they have to justify it.

READ MORE: Albertans drive home ‘double standard’ on speeding: AMA study 

In the wake of the Humboldt tragedy, Alberta Transportation Minister Brian Mason has called for a review of all highway intersections. He anticipates more roundabouts when that review is complete.

“One of the major strategies we’ll employ, I’m quite sure, is to install roundabouts at particularly dangerous intersections,” Mason said.

Sandra Hull looks forward to seeing one built near her work close to Calmar, Alta.

“I think it’s definitely a requirement. Not just a want or a need, but a must have,” she said.

A roundabout is in the planning stages for the intersection of Highways 60 and 39, southwest of Edmonton.

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Hull works next to the intersection and has had three or four near-misses during her years there, turning from one highway onto the other. From her office, she has often heard crashes.

“When you hear that bang, the first thing that comes out of your mouth is: ‘I hope no one died,'” said Hull.

“You look out the window to see where the cars have flung to. You see people pulling over. People are getting out of their vehicles. Shrapnel, for lack of a better word, is all over the road.”

Hull feels a roundabout at that intersection is long overdue.

Other provincial transportation departments say roundabouts are one tool but they aren’t a panacea. Saskatchewan’s highways minister says his department’s first priority at dangerous intersections is to slow traffic down.

When it comes to roundabouts David Marit said, “I won’t rule it out but at this time, we haven’t really looked at them.”

B.C. has built roundabouts but the department looks at many other traffic-calming measures.

“Sometimes, it’s a four-way stop, sometimes it’s lights, sometimes it’s a roundabout but safety is a priority,” said B.C. Transportation & Infrastructure Minister Claire Trevena.

It’s that broader safety message that people like Wanda Campbell and Sandra Hull hope sinks in with all governments as multiple studies and reviews are conducted.

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How highways become safer isn’t their concern, just that they do.

“I think we don’t realize how busy our rural intersections are,” said Campbell.

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