By Cam Fortems, KTW

This variable speed sign is on the Sea to Sky Highway that connects Vancouver to Whistler.

The province flipped a switch yesterday on a new electronic speed management system for three highways prone to extreme weather events.

The $12.5-million electronic system is accompanied by changes to the Motor Vehicle Act that make variable maximum speed limits more than a recommendation.

“These are not advisory speeds, not speed-reader boards,” said Minister of Transportation Todd Stone. “They’re maximum limits on those highways at that time.”

The system is used on sections of the Trans-Canada, Coquihalla and Sea to Sky highways.

On the Coquihalla, there are 13 variable signs on a 24-kilometre section stretching from the Portia Interchange to the former toll plaza.

That includes the snowshed.

On the Trans-Canada Highway, the signs are in place from Perry River to Revelskoke, a 40-kilometre distance. There are 16 signs on the Sea to Sky Highway outside Squamish.

Stone said the system is the first of its kind in Canada and will join jurisdictions using them in the U.S.

The system uses monitors that assess grip, visibility, traffic volumes and speed. A ministry staff member in the Coquitlam traffic management centre makes the decision on where to set the limit.

The ministry predicts the signs will reduce accidents.

Stone pointed to a weather event on May 27 on the Coquihalla Highway south of Inks Lake that saw at least seven vehicles crash independently in a flash hail and snow storm

“The conditions went from fairly normal to extremely treacherous,” he said.

“There were a number of collisions as a result. This technology is designed to address those realities.”

Sgt. Mike Pears with the RCMP’s Central Interior Traffic Services section, hopes the system will help drivers slow during poor conditions.

“Drive to what you’re comfortable, but the maximum limit is what you’re looking at,” he said.

Pears noted the signs may also be activated in case of an accident or maintenance, for example.

Stone said the province will look at expanding the system to other sections or highways.