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Higher speed limits in B.C. could put more animals at risk, study warns

The Coquihalla Highway between Hope and Merritt, B.C.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Each winter, road salt gathers in the ditches along northern B.C. highways, forming mineral licks that attract moose and other wildlife to roadsides – often to their own peril.

A recent study by Roy Rea, a senior laboratory instructor at the University of Northern British Columbia, identifies 29 hot spots in B.C. where collisions between moose and vehicles are most likely to occur. Nine of these hot spots are in places with roadside mineral licks.

Mr. Rea is working with the Ministry of Transportation on getting rid of the mineral licks by filling in the ditches with boulders or cedar mulch.

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But his work might be undone if the province allows higher speed limits on northern stretches of highway. On Wednesday, B.C. announced changes to speed limits on B.C. roads that will allow drivers to speed up to 120 kilometres per hour on certain divided, multilane highways. The limits were boosted from 100 km/h after a review of rural highway safety.

The new top speed came into effect on Wednesday on the Coquihalla Highway between Hope and Kamloops, the Okanagan Connector from just outside Merritt to Peachland, and along a section of the Island Highway between Parksville and Campbell River.

Mr. Rea said higher limits could spell disaster for animals.

"If you come around a corner doing 120, you only have so much breaking time to stop for something in the middle of the road versus if you're going 80 kilometres an hour."

In his study published this month, Mr. Rea recommends implementing lower speed limits in known collision hot spots – especially at night when it can be hard to spot an animal in the dark. Night-time driving speeds in those areas should be knocked down to 80 km/h, Mr. Rea suggests.

Collisions between moose and vehicles kill one to two motorists and at least 300 to 500 moose every year, although the study notes that the moose casualties could possibly be as high as 1,200. The collisions cost the province more than $25-million a year in clean-up and other expenses.

The study recommends updating moose warning signs, many of which are out of date, as well as cutting roadside brush so that drivers can see better.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Alexandra Posadzki is a multimedia journalist who has worked in Vancouver and Toronto covering a range of topics including crime, disasters, labour strife, business, politics and justice. More

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