Although local RCMP are calling for mountain highway status for the Sea to Sky Highway so that snow tires would be mandatory during winter months, highway officials within B.C. and Washington have differing opinions on the idea.
Parks Canada directives state that motorists must have snow tires or chains on mountain highways and signage support those orders through Mt. Revelstoke, Glacier National Park, Rogers Pass, and between Jasper and Lake Louise. But with five million vehicles travelling those roads annually, the 40 year-old regulations aren’t practical, says Parks Canada’s highway service centre director.
“We put that as a requirement but it’s more of an advisory, if people get into trouble then they have no recourse against us,” said Terry McGuire from Parks Canada’s Calgary offices.
Merritt RCMP agree.
Close to four million motorists travel the Coquihalla each year and RCMP highway patrol based in Merritt said although they have the authority within the Motor Vehicle Act to fine motorists travelling without snow tires they usually do so only in the event of accidents.
“We never do tire road checks on Coquihalla, we’re too busy for that,” said Cpl. Lorne Cusator, adding that officers do tire checks within Merritt.
About seven million vehicles travel Highway 99 annually from Horseshoe Bay to Whistler and RCMP highway patrol backed by business leaders are calling for a mountain highway designation for the roadway that would make snow tires or chains mandatory during winter months. Cpl. Scott Bowden speaks for the RCMP’s Squamish-based traffic services and says collisions that close the highway for hours could be avoided if vehicles travelling the highway between November and April were equipped with snow tires or chains.
But the Ministry of Transportation said such a designation doesn’t exist and would require new legislation. Ministry officials also said that police already have authority to fine or turn back motorists travelling the highway without proper tires.
But Bowden said that’s not good enough.
“We don’t want to have an enforcement issue because we don’t have the manpower, the ability to get out there. When there’s poor weather we’re dealing with collisions, other calls for service,” he said.
Washington State enforces snow tire or chain usage on its mountain highways. Department of Transportation officials say snow tires are mandatory during poor weather on I-90, the highway that links Seattle to Spokane through Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade Mountains and on which 30,000 vehicles travel daily. During poor weather information is relayed to motorists on electronic messaging signs and via radio, and state patrol stationed at checkpoints make sure motorists have either snow tires or chains. Those vehicles that don’t have snow tires or chains will be turned back.
Representatives for Whistler’s only car rental agency said although they currently do not have snow tires on any vehicles in Canada that would change if Highway 99 were designated a mountain highway and snow tires became mandatory.
“If the province changes the policy then we would change what we rent. It’s that simple,” said Susan Williams, AVIS’s director of public relations, from the company’s New Jersey headquarters. “Right now we rent cars that are in compliance with Motor Vehicle Act regulations that are in place, so if they ever change we would then rent whatever was in compliance.”