Highway safety on NWO mayors’ minds

By Mike Stimpson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Thunder Bay Source

ATIKOKAN – The 195-kilometre drive to Thunder Bay can be awfully risky, Atikokan Mayor Rob Ferguson says.

“This year we’ve been lucky with the amount of snow, but it seems like every day I see on the news an accident on the highway,” he told NWO Newswatch.

“I know a lot of people in Atikokan who worry about travelling on the highway to Thunder Bay because they feel unsafe,” he added. “It is concerning to the people of Atikokan.”

So Ferguson supports ideas put forward by the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association, of which Atikokan is a member, to improve safety on northern roadways.

Among the ideas: more signs reminding drivers to slow down, more maintained year-round rest stops for truckers and other motorists, and revising the snow-clearing standards for contractors.

NOMA representatives discussed the ideas with provincial officials and others from Jan. 21-23 at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference in Toronto.

The municipalities saw progress on snow-clearing standards in November 2022 when the province announced contractors will be required to clear Highways 11 and 17 to bare pavement within 12 hours from the end of a winter storm. The previous time frame was four hours.

Now NOMA wants the standard clipped further to eight hours because “we think it would reduce the accident rate,” said NOMA president Wendy Landry, who is also Shuniah’s mayor.

Highway safety is “no doubt one of the top issues for rural and northern municipalities,” Landry said.

NOMA is “constantly looking at ways of making the highways safer” and tighter timelines for clearing the highways is just one item in the toolbox, she said.

Landry said another possible tool, also related to snow-clearing, is better pay for plow operators.

Competitive pay is key to recruiting “good committed people,” she said.