By Miriam Ostermann, Associate Editor
Wheatland County residents are demanding further action from the provincial government to implement changes at a deadly intersection where a two-vehicle crash claimed the life of a man last week.
The fatal accident at Highway 840 and Highway 564 occurred just five months after two Standard residents circulated a petition and lobbied Alberta Transportation to install flashing lights on top of the stop signs located on Highway 564.
The intersection received the upgrade last August, but on Jan. 2, a westbound travelling car on Highway 564 failed to stop at the stop sign and hit the trailer of a northbound truck at 6 p.m. While the driver of the truck was unharmed, the driver of the car was pronounced dead at the scene and a female passenger was transported to the hospital in serious condition.
“We had them put the red flashing lights on the stop signs, that was step number one; that hasn’t fixed the issue so we’re pushing harder,” said Standard resident Marlene Kuca, who together with Robyn Halms launched a petition after witnessing too many vehicles failing to stop at the intersection.
“It’s just steps and procedures we have to follow, but we’re not giving up on this and we’re not going to stop. The old saying is ‘You can’t fix stupid,’ but I feel that if we make it a four-way stop, at least someone is paying attention. This intersection is only going to get worse.”
The two Highway 564 approaches to Highway 840 include a stop sign and five sets of rumble strips, yet on June 22, 2017 a truck drove through the stop sign and into the back of Traci Rasmussen’s vehicle, causing it to roll and land in the ditch. The Standard resident, Kuca’s close friend, emerged with a neck injury and severe bruising that left her hospitalized, unable to work for eight weeks. The driver of the truck received a fine of about $300 for failing to stop at the stop sign.
“I was heading to Rosebud, so I was travelling north on Highway 840 and the truck coming on Highway 564 didn’t even slow down at the stop sign, he just came right through and hit me,” said Rasmussen.
“They have to do something because even now people don’t stop. I see them all the time. Sometimes they slow down a little and sometimes they don’t. Since those lights went up I’ve seen people not stop, so I don’t know that they’re working. Maybe they need more signage farther back saying there’s an important intersection ahead and more warning. But if people aren’t stopping at stop signs now, putting up more stop signs isn’t going to do any good.”
Shortly after Rasmussen’s accident, a couple lost their lives in the same spot. The incidents motivated Kuca to seek action.
She argued that there’s been an increase in traffic on Highway 564 since it was paved from Country Hills Blvd. all the way to the Saskatchewan border. With the Wheatland Crossing School located on the corner of Highway 840 and Highway 561, she worries about school buses and high school students in their own vehicles crossing the intersection. Therefore, she’s not slowing down with her lobbying efforts. She has already discussed the creation of a four-way stop with larger signs and the red flashing lights on top with Alberta Transportation. Beyond that, other options would include a roundabout, a costly option with much more red tape.
For Kuca, the intersection is a stepping-stone to addressing a much larger issue.
“To me, this is going to go deeper than this, and once we get this part fixed I want to push forward to get our justice system fixed,” she said. “Driving without insurance is a $2,500 fine, going through a stop sign and hitting someone and damn near killing them is a $300 fine? Where does that make sense? Our system is mucked up and until people take notice of it, and start fighting, it’s going to stay the same and it’s never going to change.”
In the meantime, Kuca and Halms will continue to discuss changes to the intersection with the provincial government.