Know When to Slow for Weather With Variable Speed Signs


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We’re big fans of the maxim: “drive to conditions.” Highway travellers improve their safety dramatically by following those three words, especially in winter.

Our highway engineers set speed limits based on IDEAL driving conditions – think bare, dry roads and warm, clear weather. Once factors mess with these conditions – be it fog, rain, snow… whatever – drivers should adjust by slowing to a sensible speed.

Now, you may have noticed crews installing four new signs on Highway 3, between Hope and the Highway 3/5 junction. These Variable Speed Limit signs are part of a pilot project to reduce weather-related crashes by helping drivers know when to slow down, depending on current conditions. The signs are also operating on sections of the Coquihalla, the Trans-Canada, and the Sea to Sky Highway.

                   Installing variable speed limit sign on Highway 3, east of Hope, in November, 2019.

How Do They Work?

A system of traffic, pavement and visibility sensors are set up to detect conditions and provide operations staff with recommended speeds. BC’s weather changes quickly, especially in high elevation mountain passes; operations staff continuously monitor the conditions information and adjust the digital variable speed signs accordingly. Overhead message signs let travellers know when they’re entering a variable speed zone, and warn drivers to be aware of changing weather conditions. Variable speed limits are enforceable by police.

Installing variable speed limit sign on Highway 1 in November, 2015.
Installing variable speed limit sign on Highway 1 in November, 2015.

How Many, and Where?

  • Highway 1 from Perry River to Revelstoke (18 signs)
  • Coquihalla from Portia Interchange to the former Toll Plaza (13 signs)
  • Sea to Sky from Squamish to Function Junction, Whistler (16 signs)
  • Highway 3 from Hope to Highway 3/5 Junction (four signs)
  • Highway 1 from Sumas River Bridge in Abbotsford to Prest Road overpass in Chilliwack

variable speed limit systems

The Importance of Testing

We need the system’s accuracy to be spot-on before travellers can see the digital signs. Once everything is installed (poles, signs, optical sensors), we spend two to three months testing and refining with the signs covered.

The new system on Highway 1 between Sumas River Bridge in Abbotsford, and Prest Road overpass in Chilliwack, uses sensors to detect traffic congestion. It’s in the testing phase and expected to go into operation in early 2020.

What do you think about the variable message sign pilot project? Do you think it will help you Shift Into Winter? Let us know in the comments section below.

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