'You're dealing with people's lives': Highway 40 funding overdue, says crash survivor

The province has committed $200 million to upgrading Highway 40, a stretch of road used daily by thousands of drivers.

Alberta has committed $200 million in funding for upgrades, repairs and expansions to Highway 40

Rob Varley swerved off Highway 40 near Grande Prairie to avoid a head-on collision in October 2016. (Rob Varley)

"Get back in your lane! Get back in your lane," Rob Varley remembers yelling, as the headlights of a flatbed truck cut through the fog in front of him on Highway 40.

The oncoming driver swerved, then lost control and smashed into Varley's tanker truck. Varley veered into the ditch.

"I didn't even move, just sat in the truck," he recalled about the moments after the crash.

Rob Varley's truck was damaged in a collision on Highway 40 in October 2016. (Rob Varley)

Varley survived the head-on collision on Highway 40 south of Grande Prairie in October 2016, three months into his job as a tanker-truck driver.

More than a year later, he said the two-lane highway isn't any safer.

"It's just a really scary road that they really need to do something about," Varley said. ​"You're dealing with people's lives."

Last year, Grande Prairie RCMP responded to 150 collisions on Highway 40. There were two more in the first 10 days of 2018.

'I do it for the money but I also do it to come home,' Rob Varley said about his work driving tanker trucks on Highway 40. (Rob Varley)

Varley drives the route at least twice daily for work. He shares the highway with thousands of vehicles a day, according to traffic volume statistics recorded by Alberta Transportation.

"I do it for the money but I also do it to come home," the father of two said.

The highway needs more areas for vehicles to pull over and to pass each other, Varley said.

In September 2017, Alberta Transportation announced it would invest nearly $200 million in 18 projects to improve Highway 40.

The projects include widening, re-paving, and repairing sections of the highway, as well as adding more passing lanes and safety rest areas.

Grande Prairie's mayor, Bill Given, said the investment is a start but it doesn't go far enough.

"It's absolutely become very, very dangerous," Given said.

"The loss of life on Highway 40 has been a concern to many people in the region and continues to be and so you will see Grande Prairie and our entire region advocating for twinning of Highway 40 as soon as is practical in the provincial budget."

Without a parallel road to ease pressure on Highway 40, Given said the city will also take an economic hit.

The highway connects Grande Prairie to industry such as natural gas operations in the Montney Formation.

"Highway 40 has become a constraint on the development of local economy," Given said. "Improvements to Highway 40 are badly needed.

"But they haven't made a significant amount of improvements on this north end of the highway where the industrial activity's really happening."

The money for Highway 40 was set aside during 2017 budget planning, said Alberta Transportation spokesperson Anna Neale. 

"When you think of the whole network, there's a considerable shopping list of wants," Neale said.

"Not every want or need can be addressed every year and so we have to prioritize all of these based on the overall available dollars."

@ZoeHTodd

About the Author

Zoe Todd

Video Journalist

Zoe Todd is a CBC video journalist based in Grande Prairie, Alta., filing videos and stories about the Peace region for web, radio and TV.

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