GREENSTONE — After a long winter with sudden highway closures and multiple fatalities, council members in Greenstone have recommended that the Ministry of Transportation actively consider adding a rest stop and advanced training for long-haul truck drivers travelling the Highway 11-17 corridor.
Greenstone Mayor James McPherson said that he spoke with Associate Minister Stan Cho at the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association Conference, held April 26-28, regarding creating a rest stop in Greenstone.
“Greenstone is halfway between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, so people are timing out and they need a place to stop,” McPherson said.
Currently, there are no winter truck spots along the 400-kilometre stretch of Highway 11 between Hearst and Nipigon.
McPherson would like to have a year-round space for a rest stop in the Greenstone area to provide truckers with a safe space to pull over when their allotted time is up.
Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Lise Vaugeois, who also attended the conference, addressed the lack of rest stops in the North.
“There is no rest stop for a very long distance, so then you also have drivers pushing through when there is nowhere to stop and that’s extremely dangerous,” Vaugeois said.
Those drivers who pull over to park are disrupting traffic in Greenstone or potentially putting themselves at risk of a rollover by parking on the soft shoulder of the highway.
Vaugeois would also have liked to have heard more of an acknowledgement from the Ministry of Transportation that it's taking the licensing of drivers and their training seriously.
“Right now, we still have a situation where we got inexperienced drivers being put on the highway without enforcement,” Vaugeois said.
Greenstone Coun. Eric Pietsch took the opportunity to ask Cho if there have been conversations among the provincial government to update their driver training methods.
Pietsch suggested that drivers can train on a simulator that’s programmed to replicate the weather and terrain of northern highways.
Cho was fairly responsive to the suggestion.
“I think that we need to look towards something we're not doing," he said. "You know, technology is absolutely amazing these days. I had a chance to drive a simulator — not in a trucking context but one for a race car — and it was very realistic. I think there's some merit to that.”
Vaugeois does not mince words when she said private licensing companies are fraudulently giving inexperienced truck drivers the means to operate transport vehicles without the proper training.
An active investment from the Ford government for rest areas along the northern highways would be a step in the right direction, Vaugeois said, also suggesting hiring operators to open inspection stations.
"Sometimes drivers are being put on the road [in a vehicle] that is not roadworthy. The tires are not roadworthy. If nobody is in the inspection stations, then nobody is calling the companies to account for how they are sending their drivers out.”
Vaugeois said the truckers are not at fault.
“It lies on the companies and it comes down to us as members of government to be calling those companies to account,” said Vaugeois.