RCMP lead convoys of cars as road reopens
LAC LA BICHE — Weary motorists finally got a reprieve late Friday night after spending much of the day sitting in a long line of vehicles barred from an icy stretch of highway connecting Fort McMurray to the rest of the province.
RCMP reopened Highway 63, which had been shut down since Thursday evening due to treacherous conditions made worse Friday by freezing rain.
But the reopening wasn’t exactly a case of off to the races — RCMP vehicles served as pilot cars slowly leading about 50 vehicles at a time at 15-minute intervals.
RCMP said the strategy allowed them to minimize the amount of traffic in any given area of the highway, as well as set the pace for the speed of travel.
Meanwhile, maintenance crews continued to work away plowing and sanding the highway between the Highway 55 junction and Secondary Highway 881.
Hundreds of cars and trucks were waiting at either end of the roadblocks.
“It’s life on 63,” quipped Guy Stacey earlier in the evening as he relaxed with his driver’s seat tipped back and his feet resting on his dashboard.
Some passed the time by reading, some by listening to music, and others by sleeping.
Some people were frustrated.
“They closed the barn door after the horse ran away,” said one man of the maintenance work.
“They should have been doing this all week, not just today.”
But Mel Peterson of M & K Trucking said drivers shouldn’t underestimate the danger.
“You can be driving along, minding your own business, and the next thing you know you’re on black ice,” he said.
“You don’t see it and you’re in trouble. I’ve been there just about 20 years and I haven’t seen the highway shut down this long.”
A spokesman for Alberta Transportation said decisions to close major highways are not made often, but there was little option in this case.
“All of a sudden you’re going from an asphalt roadway to a curling rink,” said Parker Hogan, explaining that fluctuating temperatures made it difficult to adjust the sand/salt mixture to changing road conditions.
Despite the reopening of the highway, RCMP were still recommending against travel in the area, telling people that if they were able to stay put, that’s what they should do.