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Judicial inquiry finds low friction, misconduct factors to Hamilton highway crashes

Dena Fehir
Judicial inquiry finds low friction, misconduct factors to Hamilton highway crashes

The final report of a four-year judicial inquiry into crashes on Hamilton’s Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) has been released, targeting low friction as well as misconduct and carelessness of a former top city official.

The inquiry, led by Superior Court Judge Herman Wilton-Siegel, was requested in 2019 to look into a suspect number of crashes on the highway as well as concerns over a city hall official neglecting to share a study on slippery road conditions for a number of years.

The latter aforementioned reason for the inquest was the discovery of a 2013 consultant’s report that detailed the results of asphalt friction testing not being shared with the City of Hamilton’s senior leadership team or city council until late 2018 and early 2019.

The 2013 friction report from outside consultant Tradewind Scientific Inc., dubbed the “Tradewind Report,” included results from friction testing completed on the RHVP. It concluded friction levels fell below the “investigatory” standard used in the United Kingdom.

Wilton-Siegel suggested if the city’s director of engineering services at the time, Gary Moore, had come forward with the consultant’s reports, there could have been fewer vehicle crashes.

He also concluded “friction levels on the RHVP were generally low or well below” the standard they were measured against and that the relatively low friction levels were a likely contributor to collisions.

“Almost as soon as the RHVP opened in 2007, city councillors began receiving complaints about driving conditions on the RHVP. These complaints related principally to an inability to see pavement markings and roadway delineators, particularly in the dark or during inclement or snowy weather conditions, and a lack of lighting on certain portions of the RHVP,” said Wilton-Siegel in his report. “Some complaints also raised the issue of potential or perceived slipperiness of the road surface. The RHVP had its first fatal collision in 2012, and its second in 2015. By 2018, six people had died in collisions on the RHVP.”

It was also revealed the RHVP overall collision rates were higher than provincial averages, the highway had an abnormally high proportion of wet road collisions and that friction levels declined between 2007 to 2014 before they levelled off.

In response, the City of Hamilton is reporting that since the Tradewind Report was discovered, it has taken various actions to investigate and improve transparency and co-ordination between city departments.

The RHVP was repaved in May and July 2019 and, at that time, speed limits were reduced to 80 km/h on both sides of the parkway between Dartnall Road and Greenhill Avenue.

A temporary chief road official position was created with the objective of improving operating procedures relating to planning, design, construction and maintenance operations for roadways — including the RHVP.

A parkway management committee was also created and a quality management system implemented in the public works department to ensure staff meet and exceed regulatory standards.

“The city did not wait for the conclusion of the judicial inquiry to act. We are thankful for this report and will carefully review the recommendations to ensure appropriate steps are taken to ensure public safety and improve internal systems and information sharing,” said City of Hamilton acting city manager Grace Mater.

In a City of Hamilton news release, it is reported staff are reviewing the RHVP Judicial Inquiry’s findings and recommendations and will bring it to the next General Issues Committee Meeting, where council will be given an overview on how to respond and next steps in the process.

To date, the inquiry has cost the city $28 million, involved 89 days of hearings, more than 131,941 documents and 107 witnesses.

The initial budget, forecasted in 2019 was between $5 and $7 million, and was revised to $20 million in December 2021.

A further budget increase of up to $26 million was approved by council in August 2022, based on an updated estimate of the commission council’s legal fees from July 2022 to the end of the inquiry.

“I’d like to thank the inquiry commission for its hard work and important recommendations. Although this incident occurred long before the current council’s term, I apologize for this serious breach of public trust and am absolutely committed to preventing anything like this from happening again. I would like to personally express my remorse to the families who have been impacted by tragic accidents on the Red Hill Valley Parkway. I know that lives have been lost and the release of this report will be difficult for many,” said City of Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath.

The report did not make findings of criminal or civil liability, but there are several lawsuits in the works against the city due to the RHVP collisions.

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