The Transportation Ministry is investigating if deploying de-icing systems sooner would have reduced the amount slush or ice falling onto vehicles as they crossed the Port Mann and Alex Fraser bridges during Monday’s heavy snowfall.
Earlier on Monday, TReO officials had warned small amounts of slush might fall down with a splat – but Transportation Minister Todd Stone said that the weather system developed much faster than staff had anticipated.
“The original forecast for this snow event in the Lower Mainland was for some very light flurries early in the morning and they were supposed to have tapered off by mid-morning,” said Stone. Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley had received two Environment Canada snowfall warnings each on Monday.
— EC_BCweather (@ECCCWeatherBC) December 5, 2016
The Port Mann episode was less severe than the original 2012 ‘ice bombs’ incident – which led the province to install a snow-clearing system for the cables on the Port Mann Bridge as a result.
However, Stone said that the ministry records had never shown more than a few claims resulting from ice falling off the Alex Fraser Bridge.
“Where we have seen, in previous years and very occasionally, some snow fall down onto the bridge deck it has tended to come from the centre beam of the vertical columns which are in the middle of the bridge,” said Stone, noting that the de-icing agent is applied to that location.
According to ICBC senior communications specialist Sam Corea, ICBC saw a 13 per cent increase in calls answered by their Dial-a-Claim service from Dec. 5 last year – from 3,848 calls to 4,366 calls. Almost 80 per cent of those calls came from the Lower Mainland.
The auto insurance corporation received 30 claims connecting to falling ice or slush on the Alex Fraser and 10 related to the Port Mann. According to Corea, most claims are for windshield damages. Stone said that the province would cover deductibles for those 40 claims but couldn’t confirm the cost to the province. However, ICBC said that average deductible costs for ICBC-insured drivers is $300.
But photos of smashed windshields once again circulated on social media.
— Derek Thorp (@DerekBThorp) December 6, 2016
In a statement, ministry assistant deputy minister Patrick Livolsi said that while ice accumulation on the Alex Fraser Bridge was rare, the province was in contact with one driver who had reported damage.
“We are also looking into reports of a small number of vehicles being damaged on the Port Mann Bridge.”
The Port Mann’s design has cables that cross over above the lanes of traffic, while the Alex Fraser has large concrete crossbeams where snow and ice can accumulate.
“We will continue to actively investigate these reports and we will use this information to identify any improvements that can be made for the future,” ministry assistant deputy minister Patrick Livolsi said, adding the ministry will closely monitor both bridges.
He said the Port Mann cable sweepers clear snow from the cables before ice can form, limiting the size of ice that can accumulate and significantly reducing the chance of damage to vehicles.
The province is urging affected drivers to call 604 424-8240.
The 2012 incident resulted in ICBC paying out more than $400,000 in damages after receiving 350 claims for vehicle damage.