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Port Mann de-icing stepped up after 40 vehicles crash

More frequent de-icing of the new Port Mann Bridge has been ordered after multiple accidents involving 40 vehicles jammed Highway 1 traffic early Thursday morning.

Icy conditions developed along with heavy fog on the morning commute despite the bridge being sprayed with a de-icing solution at 4 a.m. Wednesday.

Max Logan, spokesman for the Transportation Investment Corp. that oversees the bridge, said the treatment of the saltwater brine solution should have lasted 48 hours but proved to be "not sufficient" as ice built up between 5 and 6 a.m. this morning, after crews ended their overnight checks.

He said contractors will now be directed to apply de-icing solution at least every 24 hours on the Port Mann instead of every 48.

"Clearly it was not adequate," Logan said. "We have told them they need to apply it more frequently."

Speed was reportedly a contributing factor as some drivers sped past slower traffic on the bridge then lost control or couldn't stop for other vehicles crashed ahead of them.

It was the second major incident since the bridge opened that's affected numerous motorists and prompted an official apology as well as vows to improve.

More than 250 vehicles were damaged Dec. 19 by ice that fell from the bridge's cables, which cross overtop of traffic lanes. A fix to prevent more overhead 'ice bombs' from building up has been promised, at the cost of the bridge's builder.

But unlike that time, tolls charged this morning aren't being refunded because the bridge did not close today.

Logan said Mainroad Contracting has also been directed to use crystal salt in addition to the brine solution on the bridge when conditions warrant.

"There's to be no repeat of this morning's circumstances," he said.

There were no reports of severe icing at other bridges in the region.

Logan said there's nothing unique about the new Port Mann Bridge that makes it more susceptible to icing up – the asphalt surface is the same as the old span.

But he said accidents may be more likely because there are now more lanes open and drivers can drive faster in slippery conditions than they usually could over the old, heavily congested bridge.

Asked whether Mainroad will also be directed to de-ice other bridges in the region at least every 24 hours, Logan referred the question to the transportation ministry.

A ministry spokesperson would only say de-icing is applied "as and when needed" at other bridges such as the Alex Fraser and Ironworkers Memorial.

The traffic jam prompted TransLink to reroute its #555 bus that normally goes over the Port Mann to Surrey Central SkyTrain station instead.

One person was taken to hospital with minor injuries, according to RCMP Sgt. Peter Thiessen.

The new bridge is the centrepiece of the $3.3-billion Port Mann/Highway 1 improvement project.

In an emailed statement, Transportation Minister Mary Polak said there's no indication the bridge's design or materials used in it were to blame and urged motorists to drive accordingly in winter conditions.

"We’re tremendously proud of the new Port Mann Bridge," she said.

SFU political scientist Patrick Smith said the two incidents are a good test of the province's resolve to make its private partners spend extra money to live up to the terms of their contracts.

He said governments usually tend to be lax in enforcing the rules of P3 projects.

"We'll see how quickly the contractor learns and how much the government insists that learning occur very quickly," Smith said.

He said any big new megaproject has a few "teething problems" but he called the Port Mann's mishaps "dramatic."

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