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Rock falls trigger safety worries

Port aux Basques trouble areas pose risk to motorists and pedestrians

Rocks near the curved roadway between two rock walls that leads from the Trans Canada Highway to the Marine Atlantic ferry terminal. – © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press Incorporated

By Jaymie L. White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES – Along Caribou Road and overlooking the Marine Atlantic terminal is a rocky cliff that occasionally and without warning drops large boulders into the roadway below. The town of Port aux Basques is aware of the risk. “We’re aware of them. That’s been looked at previously with the current council and previous councils,” said Town Manager Leon MacIsaac. “It’s just very difficult to control. They did have the same issue in St. John’s, the Battery, and over on South Side Road where they put in the new sewage treatment system there. It’s an ongoing issue. We certainly don’t want to bring in equipment. There’s largely rocks making a bigger issue. So we leave it to the professionals who would give us the best idea how to best address that site.” The best course of action is something MacIsaac believes is best left to professionals. “We don’t want to go at it haphazardly, by any stretch,” said MacIsaac. Currently the Town has not been made aware of the rocks causing any issues for motorists to date, and currently no significant concerns have been brought to council. “It’s just the occasional rock fall. People are concerned that there’s rocks on the road, but there hasn’t been a large issue to date. I haven’t known of one, just some occasional concern of falling rocks, mostly,” said MacIsaac. Rock falls aren’t a new issue for the province. As far back as 2010, a CBC article, ‘Beware bounding boulders on the Burin,’ stated that residents on the Burin Peninsula were subjected to numerous falling boulders that came from a steep cliff above the roadway, some of the boulders as large as vehicles. Road debris, like fallen rocks, can cause severe damages to vehicles depending on size and the speed with which a vehicle makes contact. Damages to a vehicle’s hubcaps, undercarriage, muffler, and bumpers could be caused by road debris, as well as damages to the windshield if a rock were to fall onto the car or bounce off the road. The cost of such damage could go into the thousands, an amount that could prove detrimental to many. Sharper rocks could cause a flat tire, there could be damages to the body paint on the vehicle, and more severely, a serious accident, and even a fatality could result. According to the Government of Canada, in collaboration with Traffic Canada, environmental factors, which would include rocks and debris on the road, are one of the contributing factors in fatal collisions across Canada. From 2017 to 2021 the data is as follows:

  1. 2017 – 20.7 per cent of fatal accidents across Canada had contributing environmental factors

  2. 2018 – 20.3 per cent

  3. 2019 – 20.1 per cent

  4. 2020 – 18.4 per cent

  5. 2021 – 18.0 per cent While the numbers have steadily declined, the potential of environmental factors contributing to a fatal accident remains an understandable concern. According to Transport Canada, there are some tips on how drivers can stay safe on roadways, no matter the circumstances and eliminating distracted driving is one of the most important. Distracted driving can be classified as anything that takes the driver’s attention away from the road, whether it be texting, eating or drinking, talking on the phone, or using the entertainment system in the vehicle. Transport Canada lists these steps to help drivers eliminate distracted driving:

  6. Never text while driving, even when you are stopped in traffic or at a traffic light

  7. If you must send or receive a call or text, pull over to a safe location and park your car first

  8. Avoid using any device that may take your attention away from the task of driving

  9. This includes changing the settings on your navigation system or browsing the menu on your infotainment system

  10. Keep your eyes on the road and safely control your vehicle at all times

  11. Encourage friends and family to drive distraction-free Data from Transport Canada’s National Collision Database revealed that distracted driving was a contributing factor to approximately 21 per cent of fatal collisions and 27 per cent of serious injury collisions in 2016. These statistics show an alarming increase from the data only a decade earlier, where distracted driving-related collisions contributed to 16 per cent of fatal collisions and 22 per cent of serious injury collisions. Before it ends at the Marine Atlantic ferry terminal in Port aux Basques, the Trans Canada Highway reduces to a single lane and curves between two rock walls before reaching a stop sign that prompts motorists to turn left into town or right to the ferry. There is little to no shoulder to veer off in the event of a rock slide. Rocks have been falling there too, and some are clearly large enough to cause significant damage to a vehicle or even injure the driver. In this case it is the province and not the town that is responsible for this section of roadway. The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure response to email inquiries with the following: “The Provincial Government is responsible for rock falls when they occur on a provincially-operated roadway. “In this case, the highway right-of-way location where the incident occurred had no previous history of falling rocks. Based on a visual inspection, the debris in the right-of-way poses no concerns to motorists and the debris will be removed in the near future. The Department will continue to monitor this area for rock falls.”

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