BANFF – Traffic is being diverted along a deadly stretch of highway through Kootenay National Park this fall as work continues on the $601 million Trans-Canada Highway construction project in Kicking Horse Canyon east of Golden.
There have been at least four fatalities along Highway 93 South between Castle Mountain and Radium Hot Springs so far this year.
With full closures of the Trans-Canada Highway east of Golden Sept. 18-22 and Sept. 25-Oct. 6, meaning thousands and thousands more vehicles on that 94-kilometre two-lane stretch of highway through Kootenay National Park, Parks Canada is urging motorists to follow all road rules to stay safe.
Officials say both Parks Canada and B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure contracted professional safety audits of Highway 93 South prior to the planned traffic diversions, which began in 2021 when the Kicking Horse Canyon Phase 4 construction project began.
“Signage and speed zones were adjusted to ensure safety on the highway,” said Ashley Gales, Parks Canada’s acting public relations and communications officer for Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay.
“Highway 93 South is safe to travel provided motorists obey signage and speed limits, and drive for the conditions.”
The Kicking Horse Canyon Phase 4 project, slated for completion in winter 2023-24, will see a 4.8-kilometre section of narrow, winding two-lane road east of Golden converted to a modern four-lane standard.
The final construction push this fall requires the full extended closure of Highway 1 for two periods, totalling 17 days, so crews can focus on preparing the new westbound lanes.
During the two closures, Yoho National Park and Lake Louise are still open via the Trans-Canada from the east.
The highway will be fully open for the Thanksgiving long weekend from noon Oct. 6 to noon Oct. 10. After Thanksgiving, some daytime stoppages and overnight closures can still be expected.
The traffic diversion through Kootenay National Park will add about 1.5 hours of travel time, but law enforcement authorities are consistently on the look-out for speeding or dangerous drivers.
“Parks Canada continues to support the RCMP and Commercial Vehicle Safety Enforcement (CVSE) with increased speed and commercial traffic enforcement on Highway 93 South,” said Gales.
While there is no cell coverage or WiFi in Kootenay National Park, four emergency satellite phones are located along the highway at Simpson River Trailhead, Kootenay River day-use Area, Marble Canyon day-use area and the Kootenay Crossing operators centre.
Gales said the emergency phones, which are marked by signs with a telephone SOS image, connect callers directly to Banff dispatch 24/7 and if necessary, dispatchers will connect callers to 911.
“This may take a few extra minutes and there is no hold music, so please be patient and stay on the line until a dispatcher instructs you to hang up,” she said.
“If you hang up without waiting for dispatch instructions, the line will be engaged and you cannot make another call until the dispatcher clears the line.”
With winter weather just around the corner, visitors are reminded that winter tires, M+S tires or chains are required by law for travel on Highway 93 South in Kootenay National Park between October 1 and April 30.
Gales said it is also a good idea to keep fuel levels above half in winter, noting there are no gas stations along the 94-km stretch of highway.
“Equip your vehicle with a shovel, flashlight, blanket, food and extra warm clothing,” she said.
Highway 93 South between Castle Mountain and Radium Hot Springs has been the scene of numerous accidents so far this year, including several fatalities.
On July 19, a man was discovered dead at the scene when his tanker truck was fully engulfed in flames.
Emergency services personnel were called to a double fatality on June 29 between Dolly Varden and Settlers Road when a westbound car crossed the centre line and crashed into an oncoming SUV. Both people in the car were pronounced dead at the scene and three people were sent to hospital, including a woman in her 30s who was flown by the STARS air ambulance to Calgary's Foothills Medical Centre.
On Feb. 2, a SUV collided with a transport truck near Hector Gorge, killing the driver of the SUV. One of the passengers in the SUV suffered serious but non-life threatening injuries, while an infant in the vehicle was uninjured. The occupants of the transport truck were not hurt.
There have also been other crashes, leaving people badly injured. Last week, STARS air ambulance airlifted a 51-year-old man in stable condition to Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary on Sept. 11 after serious crash between a motorcyclist and a trucker on Highway 93 South.
Travellers are advised to check DriveBC.ca and Alberta 511 before driving through Kootenay National Park for current road conditions.