Photo radar may be expanded
Solicitor general says 'special areas' would be targeted
Renata D'Aliesio and Cathy Ellis, Calgary Herald and For The Calgary Herald
Published: Tuesday, July 08, 2008
The Alberta government is weighing whether to unleash photo radar on some provincial highways, the province's top police officer says.
The contentious speeding enforcement tool is now banned from highways outside of urban centres.
The province recently turned to 99 traffic sheriffs to bolster highway patrols, but several hot spots for speeding and accidents remain.
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Solicitor General Fred Lindsay suggested Monday some "special areas," such as the oilsands region and national parks, may warrant changing the province's position on photo radar.
"Anywhere where we've got people driving way too fast and we can't quite get enough patrols out there, those are the areas we are looking at," he said.
As the province weighs the merits of introducing photo radar on rural roads, Lindsay said he'd have to be convinced the tool would slow drivers and improve safety.
"Then there's the other issue around revenue, and the cash-cow thing," he added. "My thoughts are if we ever did do that, we would probably dedicate the revenues to something like STARS (air ambulance)."
Mounties and Parks Canada officials have been lobbying to use photo radar for some time.
Banff RCMP sent a request to the Alberta government three years ago, offering statistics that showed on average, drivers were clocking 123 km/h during the day and 118 km/h at night through the park's 90-km/h zone.
Now, Parks Canada suggests photo radar would improve safety and reduce wildlife deaths on the two-lane Highway 93 through Kootenay National Park, where two grizzly bears have died this summer -- one struck by a semi, the other by a motorcycle.
Although speeding wasn't a factor in those fatalities, lead-footed drivers are a concern on the scenic, 106-kilometre stretch of highway between Castle Mountain and Radium Hot Springs, said Bill Hunt, chief park warden for Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay parks.
The two-lane highway has seen a stark increase in annual traffic volume, rising to 900,000 vehicles in 2006 from 700,000 in 1997. During this period, 444 crashes involving wildlife were recorded.
"It points to the increasingly threatening problem, with what I can only call a gang of hoodlums racing from Calgary to cabins in B.C. who have complete disregard for the nature of the national parks and for the law," said Jim Pissot, executive director of Canmore-based Defenders of Wildlife.
Hunt said a recent study of wildlife-vehicle encounters commissioned by Parks Canada recommends erecting fences in key areas, along with constructing underpasses and overpasses. The recommendations, which would cost millions, are under review.
"This is a long-term solution and the cost and design of these things means none of it will happen soon," Hunt said, noting photo radar and more police patrols could help in the short term.
Photo radar is also on the minds of councillors with the Municipal District of Foothills, as the region south of Calgary grapples with more traffic.
Deputy Reeve Terry Waddock notes Highway 762 south of Bragg Creek has become a major problem.
"I am a supporter of a wider use of photo radar and especially where it is the safest option to dealing with speeders," Waddock said in an e-mail.
"Those who complain that photo radar is just a cash-cow have an obvious option -- don't speed."
No deadline has been set for the province's photo-radar review
Cathy Ellis is a reporter for the Rocky Mountain Outlook.