Median barriers could have prevented fatality: fire chief

The fire chief said “there’s not a question in my mind that it [a median barrier] would have 100 per cent prevented the fatality.

A fatal crash on the Malahat Wednesday morning, just north of Aspen Road, has again prompted calls for increased safety on the highway that links Victoria to the rest of Vancouver Island.

Malahat Fire Chief Rob Patterson said his crews were called out at 6:48 a.m.

Patterson said it’s his belief a northbound red Toyota Tacoma pickup truck crossed the centre line in the early morning hours, striking a black Mazda.

The driver of the Mazda, a 33-year-old Saanich man, died at the scene as a result of the near-head-on collision.

A blue Hyundai hatchback was also unable to escape the crash.

Three people were transported to hospital with varying injuries.

“From what the police are releasing so far, it seems like speed and road conditions are both major contributing factors to the crash,” Patterson said.

The fire chief said “there’s not a question in my mind that it [a median barrier] would have 100 per cent prevented the fatality. It would not have stopped the accident. But it’s going to keep that truck from crossing over and that gentleman would have been going to work again today.”

The province has thus far spent $33 million since 2001 on median barriers, covering about 50 per cent of the 18-kilometre highway.

Patterson said it’s not enough.

“There’s tons of work left to do. They haven’t finished what they’ve already said they’ve completed,” Patterson said. “I’ve asked for emergency crossover spots for my trucks to be able to cross over to the other side of the highway so if we need to move traffic away and around we’re not blocking the highway.”

He said there’s always plans in place for improvements.

“Every time there’s a major event, somebody’s always touting some plans ‘yes we’ve got something in place’. But it took eight more bodies and five years to get phase one and phase two done.”

What irks him is the lack of consultation with first responders.

“I’m the guy who’s got to scrape the bodies off the road, pry the cars apart and look at people dying,” he said. “We should have a bit of a say in some of the stuff anyway.”

Angry that this latest fatality had to happen, as he was hoping to finish off the year without a major incident, Patterson said unfortunately it will happen again.

“Hopefully we can complete the year without another one.”

Transportation Minister Todd Stone has told the Times Colonist more barriers are on the way.

“My hope would be that we would be able to move forward with the installation of more barriers certainly within the next year. The vast majority of what’s left on the Malahat we think is a good candidate for median barrier, and we’re going to put median barrier down as fast as we can.”

The highway was closed until just after noon Wednesday. The closure effectively cut ties with Victoria for up-Island residents as the Mill Bay-Brentwood Bay ferry was out of service for the morning due to mechanical issues.

Stone said that alternative option can’t be relied on to move the quantity of vehicles that routinely travel the route.

“Keep in mind, though, that it only carries 22 vehicles,” Stone told the Times Colonist. “There’s 22,000 vehicles on average that go through the Malahat every single day.”

The Pacific Marine Circle Route — the only other detour option, had been hit hard the day before by a storm, leaving parts of it difficult to navigate.

Wednesday happened to be National Day of Remembrance for Road Crash Victims.