Fatal car crashes on Hamilton’s Red Hill Valley Pkwy. could have been avoided: report

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Published November 29, 2023 at 3:50 pm

Red Hill Valley Parkway Hamilton roads street

The investigation into Red Hill Valley Pkwy, its lack of friction which caused numerous fatal crashes, and a report buried by a Hamilton employee, revealed the accident could have been avoided.

Red Hill Valley Pkwy. (RHVP) is a seven-kilometre expressway which opened in 2007 to connect the Lincoln Alexander Pkwy. (the Linc) to Queen Elizabeth Way. Building the RHVP was an expensive decades-long process as the city continually struggled to build it against staunch opposition.

In total the expressway coast the city $245 million in both construction costs and several lawsuits, including two between Hamilton and Ontario and one between Hamilton and the Federal Government.

Almost as soon as the road opened to traffic on Nov. 17, 2007, city councillors began to receive complaints about a lack of visibility, poor lighting and a perceived slipperiness on the roadway. The first fatal collision occurred five years after the RHVP opened in 2012. A second followed in 2015. Six people died in collisions on the RHVP by 2018.

Council began to push for an investigation into the RHVP as early as 2013. They hired CIMA to looking other crash rates which found “a high proportion of wet surface collisions and single motor vehicle collisions.” Shortly thereafter CIMA brought forward a host of recommendations to fix the road which the city began.

This process would take five years, finally concluding in 2019. It included a full resurfacing of the roadway. By this time, council learned of two reports about the RHVP from years earlier. One was  by Tradewind, a scientific consultancy firm, and the other was by Golder Associates about the road surface.

Director of Engineering Services Gary Moore had commissioned both studies in 2013. He received them both by the next year. The Tradewind report found the friction levels on the RHVP were well below the standard used in the United Kingdom. The Linc, however, met this standard.

Despite requests for friction testing from council over the years since, Moore did not provide these studies. He retired in 2018 and the reports were discovered by his successor Gord McGuire. Furthermore, the inquiry found Moore had made comments to council and the media that ran counter to the reports.

The previous city council, then under Mayor Fred Eisenberger, was advised of the situation in January 2019 and commissioned the inquiry. They publically released the Tradewind report at this time and apologized for how long it took to reveal. Superior court Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel was later placed in charge of the inquiry.

After years of work and public hearings, including 89 days of hearings, more than 131,941 documents and 107 witnesses, Wilton-Siegel released his report on Nov. 29, 2023. He found the actual road design and layout followed the prevailing best practices used in Ontario. However, he noted some stretches of the road were “particularly challenging to drive.”

Furthermore, he found “It is logical to assume the failure to disclose the Tradewind Report, or the information and recommendations contained in the report, resulted in users of the RHVP being exposed to more risk.”

Reactions to the report were swift with Mayor Andrea Horwath saying public trust was “profoundly shaken” by the revelation of the Tradewind report in 2018. However, Wilton-Siegel found ” Moore’s decision not to share the results was not inappropriate in the circumstances.”

Horwath continued saying she, council and city staff are “carefully reviewing” the report to ensure similar incidents don’t happen again and to quickly act on the report’s recommendations.

“I would like to personally express my remorse to the families who have been impacted by tragic accidents on the RHVP. I know that lives have been lost and that the release of this report today will be difficult for many. My heart is with them,” she said.

“I’d like to thank the Inquiry Commission for its hard work and important recommendations. Although this incident occurred long before the current Council’s term, I apologize for this serious breach of public trust and am absolutely committed to preventing anything like this from happening again,” she continued. 

The city has already taken steps to improve its record management, ensure future road projects are safer and improve the RHVP.

 

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