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‘Ice bombs’ damage vehicles on Port Mann, Alex Fraser bridges during snowfall

Storm generates more ‘ice bombs’ on Metro Vancouver bridges
Despite mechanisms in place to prevent 'ice bombs' falling from bridges, a number of drivers were hit and one bridge was shut down. Jill Bennett reports.

Metro Vancouver’s first round of snow Friday morning came with a dangerous and costly side-effect: falling “ice bombs” on the region’s major bridges.

Multiple drivers on both the Port Mann and Alex Fraser bridges reported damaged windshields and hoods from packs of snow and ice falling from the cable stays high above.

According to ICBC, 41 claims were submitted Friday for damaged vehicles on the Port Mann Bridge alone, while 24 came from the Alex Fraser. Two additional claims were made by drivers crossing the Golden Ears Bridge.

READ MORE: Ferry cancellations, ‘ice bombs,’ sloppy roads amid Metro Vancouver’s first snow of the season

Steven Slootweg was driving eastbound on the Port Mann when a projectile fell and left a two-foot-diameter crater in his windshield that pushed through to the passenger side.

‘Ice bombs’ close Alex Fraser Bridge
‘Ice bombs’ close Alex Fraser Bridge

“It completely shattered the whole windshield,” he said, adding the ice bomb also created a 15-centimetre-deep crater in his hood.

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“If that timing was a little different, it would have come right through the window right in front of me.”

A windshield damaged by falling snow and ice on the Port Mann Bridge in Metro Vancouver on Jan. 10, 2020.
A windshield damaged by falling snow and ice on the Port Mann Bridge in Metro Vancouver on Jan. 10, 2020. Steven Slootweg
A windshield damaged by falling snow and ice on the Port Mann Bridge in Metro Vancouver on Jan. 10, 2020.
A windshield damaged by falling snow and ice on the Port Mann Bridge in Metro Vancouver on Jan. 10, 2020. Steven Slootweg

On the Alex Fraser, Brad Edmondson’s sedan was also struck around the same time, leaving a 50-centimetre-wide hole in front of his driver’s seat.

“Southbound, midspan and then ‘boom,'” he said. “I was hit with a bomb.”

Edmondson said he was able to get across the bridge, which had minimal traffic at the time, despite being covered in broken glass.

A windshield damaged by falling snow and ice on the Alex Fraser Bridge in Metro Vancouver on Jan. 10, 2020.
A windshield damaged by falling snow and ice on the Alex Fraser Bridge in Metro Vancouver on Jan. 10, 2020. Brad Edmondson
A windshield damaged by falling snow and ice on the Alex Fraser Bridge in Metro Vancouver on Jan. 10, 2020.
A windshield damaged by falling snow and ice on the Alex Fraser Bridge in Metro Vancouver on Jan. 10, 2020. Brad Edmondson

He’s now left paying a $200 deductible to replace his windshield, which he doesn’t think he should have to pay.

“That would be a good idea,” he said when asked if the Ministry of Transportation or other public agency should cover that cost. “I’d offer that.”

Snow and wind warnings have been in place across the South Coast since Thursday.

In Metro Vancouver, various communities saw snowfall from a few to more than a dozen centimetres fall. Environment Canada said another two-to-five centimetres of snow was still possible Friday afternoon, along with wind gusts between 70 and 90 kilometres per hour.

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City of Vancouver and others prepare for possible overnight snow
City of Vancouver and others prepare for possible overnight snow

The mess forced police to close the Alex Fraser Bridge for the better part of an hour Friday morning, with both directions briefly shut down.

Only some lanes were able to reopen later in the day, with only one northbound lane opened.

No closures for the Port Mann Bridge or Golden Ears Bridge were reported, although the Port Mann did see some lanes briefly blocked by stopped vehicles.

The Ministry of Transportation is tasked with clearing ice and snow from the cables on the region’s bridges, but no crews were seen on either the Port Mann or the Alex Fraser early Friday morning.

READ MORE: Millions spent clearing snow, ice from Metro Vancouver bridges this winter

Crews were on both bridges later in the day — including around the time Slootweg was hit, which has him concerned.

“I’m hoping this was just ice that was falling off on its own, and they’re not actually de-icing while there’s traffic moving,” he said.

In a statement, the ministry said staff are onsite “actively monitoring the weather and conditions” at the Alex Fraser Bridge, and was working with police to ensure traffic can continue flowing.

Rain and snow hammers southern B.C. during start of holiday season
Rain and snow hammers southern B.C. during start of holiday season

“Slush has accumulated on the cable stays and with high winds at the structure, is shedding onto the bridge deck,” the ministry said.

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“As it will take time for traffic congestion to clear, the ministry encourages travellers to use alternative routes if possible.”

Ice bombs have been a periodic problem on the bridges, with criticisms raised by Port Mann drivers that heat strips weren’t installed on the cables to mitigate the issue.

READ MORE: Ministry says no danger of ice bombs falling on to cars on Alex Fraser Bridge

The ministry has spent millions of dollars to clear snow and ice from both spans in past years. In  2017, the bill hit $5 million.

Ministry spokesperson Ken Nash said while ice removal on the Port Mann cables are automated, the work has to be done manually on the Alex Fraser. But due to the high winds, crews could not make it to the top of the bridge.

He added any claims submitted by drivers for damaged vehicles “will be given their proper due diligence and investigation.”

Ice bomb prevention on Metro Vancouver bridges
Ice bomb prevention on Metro Vancouver bridges

A spokesperson for ICBC said the insurer has seen a “significant increase in call volume” to its Dial-a-Claim service, but it’s “too early to say how much of an increase we’ve received.”

Slootweg is now wary of heading back across the bridge in the evening to return home.

“It’s going to be spooky going across again if more bombs are coming down,” he said.

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