The recent increase in wild and windy weather is causing havoc for high-sided vehicles travelling to and from Cape Breton.
In fact, the rising frequency of high wind events has led to an unprecedented number of partial closures of the Canso Causeway, the man-made road and bridge that connects Cape Breton Island with mainland Nova Scotia.
Darren Blundon, who serves as the Richmond/Inverness South area manager with the province’s Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Department, said he’s astounded by the increased number of partial causeway closures over the past few years.
“I’m not a meteorologist and I certainly don’t understand all the weather, but there is no question that the frequency of high winds is increasing. Over the past five years, the graph showing high wind events has gone up at a 45-degree angle,” said Blundon.
“This has always been a windy area and it’s when there is a northwest wind coming down the Canso Strait that we get these closures — it’s just the way it is on the Strait, you can have good weather on both sides but at the same time you can have very windy conditions on the causeway.”
Those conditions have been well documented. Past videos of trucks literally blowing over while trying to negotiate the 1,385-metre, rock-filled causeway have gone viral on social media platforms.
And, it was the rise in the number of wind-related incidents that led transportation department officials to address the issue about five years ago. At that time, a new policy was put in place with more stringent rules as to when the causeway should be closed to high-sided vehicles.
“We had to do something — when those conditions happen and we have accidents it always leads to more lengthy closures because the heavy wreckers have to come in and there would be major delays in getting on or off the island,” said Blundon.
“Those incidents caused a lot of grief, so from a safety perspective we’re trying to prevent that — even after traffic moved again it led to road congestion on both sides of the causeway.”
Blundon said he and other transportation department officials visited the Confederation Bridge to see for themselves what regulations were in place for high wind events. Although the fixed-link between Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick is much longer than the Canso Causeway, the department opted to go with the same rules when it comes to closing the road to high-sided vehicles.
So, now both the bridge and the causeway officials refuse to allow the passage of vehicles that are higher than a standard ambulance when there are either sustained winds of more than 80 kilometres per hour or wind gusts of more than 85 kilometres per hour.
Weather conditions on the Canso Causeway are monitored around the clock. And, if the winds reach the critical threshold, then officials are notified and can remotely activate a number of variable message signs on either side of the crossing.
As for full causeway closures, Blundon said that scenario is usually reserved for times when limited visibility renders the causeway too dangerous to cross.
Construction of the Canso Causeway began in 1952 and was completed in 1955 at a cost of $22 million. Prior to that, motorists, pedestrians and trains were ferried across the Canso Strait. A notable side effect of the causeway is that it prevents ice from drifting down from the north and thus the waters south of the crossing are now navigable year-round.