Vancouver commuters hit by ‘ice bombs’ from brand-new bridge
By Steve Mertl
for MSN Autos
There’s always a little schadenfreude east of the Coast Mountains whenever a skiff of snow creates Mel Lastman-esque levels of panic in Metro Vancouver.
It happened again this week, creating the predictable chaos among us chronically unprepared West Coasters: Power outages, ice-rink roads, snarled transit.
And something new. Ice bombs.
The result was nightmarish. Trapped vehicles were bombarded by heavy ice chunks, damaging dozens of vehicles and causing two injuries. Some helpless drivers fired up their phones to record ice holing their windshields.
"I’m going along, and I hear a huge crash, and then I couldn’t see anything," Roberto Agnello told the Vancouver Province. "There was glass on my lap and on the dash.”
To add insult to injury, they paid for the privilege of being the ducks in Mother Nature’s shooting gallery. Passenger vehicles pay $1.50 to cross the 10-lane bridge (going up to three bucks in a year) on the Trans-Canada Highway.
The barrage forced highway officials to close the bridge in both directions for several hours. The evening commute into suburban Surrey turned into an endurance contest as the main route was barred and alternates became clogged.
By Thursday afternoon, ICBC, the government auto insurer, had fielded more than 100 claims related to the bridge, spokesman Adam Grossman said, though not all were necessarily related to ice-bomb damage.
A furious B.C. Transportation Minister Mary Polak filed what amounts to a humongous warranty claim with bridge-builder Kiewit-Flatiron General Partnership.
The government was aware snow and ice buildup might be a problem, she told a news conference, and it was addressed in the project’s contract.
“Clearly, what we saw yesterday shows that they did not meet those requirements,” the minister said.
The company issued a statement saying it was concerned about the problem “impacting motorists,” and promising to address it.
The B.C. Transportation Corp., the Crown corporation that operates the bridge, is investigating what on the surface looks like a design flaw.
The Port Mann Bridge, about three-years a-building with an all-in cost of about $3.4 billion, is said to be the widest in the world, with breadth of 65 metres. It replaces the four-lane steel span across the Fraser River that opened in 1964 and has been a commuter choke point for years.
But unlike other cable-stayed bridges whose supporting cables run along the sides of the roadway, the Port Mann’s cables gather on its central pillars stretching over the road. Their covering is supposed to inhibit ice buildup. Apparently it doesn’t.
The Crown corporation that operates the bridge promised to cover insurance deductibles for damaged vehicles and waived tolls for drivers who braved the Port Mann before it was closed.