By Laura Keil
Squatting in no-parking zones, parking so close to intersections they block visibility, parking on the wrong side of the street, and using highway shoulders as coffee-break loading zones: commercial traffic along Valemount’s frontage roads appears to be embracing a level of chaos that is putting other traffic and pedestrians in jeopardy. But truckers say they are under their own pressures, including mandates to stop driving even if there is no legal place to park.
“It’s mind-boggling,” says Dennis Nordli, the only residential property owner living along Valemount’s busy frontage road. “I saw two trucks backing onto 5th avenue.”
Nordli’s issues with the truckers and commercial drivers are personal. Despite his driveway being heavily signed, drivers sometimes park there.
“I talked to one gentleman and he goes to me (and says) ‘two minutes.’”
He says things have gotten worse since Tim Hortons was built.
“They’re not used to having so much traffic with the pipeline being here.”
Amritpal Sibia has been driving truck for more than a decade. The Goat talked to him Monday as he cleaned his truck in the Karas Mall parking lot. He believes truckers would not park the way they do if they had more options.
“People wouldn’t have to stop here in the town and cause congestion if they had better washrooms at Terry Fox or Robson hill. If there was hot water, toilets and everything.”
He says road conditions can lead to semi drivers getting behind schedule, what Sibia refers to as circumstances that “eat their book.” They are mandated to take a break after so many hours, and sometimes that means stopping in places that don’t have the space. He says the new log books don’t allow manual adjustments, which complicates things.
“It’s mandatory. You can’t move,” he says. “Let’s say someone’s book stops in the middle of Jasper. There is no proper rest area or pull-out where we can say this is the perfect spot, we can sleep here overnight and then use the washroom in the morning and leave.”
Valemount is the last hub before the provincial and national parks, which have very few places for trucks to stop, even fewer in the winter when rest areas may not be plowed.
Sibia says improving the parking lot at Karas Mall would help, for instance by adding public washrooms and more designated places to park big rigs.
“If they give us enough room which is legal, I know people wouldn’t park at those corners, or cause congestion,” he says. “This is a main highway and people have to stop.”
He says there are other benefits to stopping in Valemount, especially overnight.
“Staying here for the night you can talk to your kids at night before you go to sleep. Nobody wants to stop there (at a highway rest stop) where there’s no restrooms, no cell phone signal, and you’re basically on your own. If something happens all you can do is call 911. It’s the winter that makes it harder.”
Regardless of the reasons, the way many truckers are dealing with the parking crunch is getting on the nerves of some locals.
Valemount resident Ernie Romanow has taken matters into his own hands by calling the phone number written on the side of the offending trucks.
“I only had one guy give me beef about it, saying ‘well, where are they supposed to park?’”
Romanow says the rest of the time, dispatch usually says they’ll forward the message to the driver to move along. He’s witnessed many odd practices, such as B-trains using the highway shoulder as parking while they run into Tim Hortons, and trucks parked facing the wrong way.
“It seems like a finicky point about parking the wrong way—until they start moving. That’s where the problem is.”
Nordli wonders if the Village bylaw officer should have more power to enforce the rules.
“It shouldn’t be up to the private sector to do something about it.”
Eric Depenau, Village of Valemount CAO, says despite no formal complaints from the public, staff has relayed to bylaw that parking safety along the frontage road is a priority. At the moment the Village is only taking an education approach to enforcement and did not issue any parking tickets to transport truck drivers along Karas Drive or Cranberry Lake Road in 2022.
“Our Village Bylaw Enforcement Officer regularly patrols the area and advises those in contravention to move their vehicles,” Depenau says. The officer speaks to regular highway traffic as well as the additional tractor-trailer units operating in support of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
“Speaking with drivers generally leads to compliance through education which is the preferred approach to handling most bylaw contravention,” he says.
They refer some contraventions, such as blocking a lane of traffic or creating sightline issues, to Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement or the RCMP.
“We encourage those who witness a bylaw contravention to call into the office so that these complaints can be tracked and files opened on the specific complaint.”
Signage, paint, no-post barriers, and stone are all ways the Village is trying to manage traffic flows along the frontage roads, Depenau says. Village staff are in touch with the Ministry of Highways to discuss ways to alleviate traffic congestion and enhance safety, such as turning lanes and lighting, Depenau says.
But the Village is also hoping future economic development might take care of the problem on its own.
“At this time the services drivers are seeking are densely located,” Depeneau says. “Further development of the corridor, such as a service station to include fuel, food and shower facilities as well as ample space for parking would certainly assist in managing the demand that is causing the current conditions.”
Due to a staffing shortage, Abernathy’s restaurant at the McLennan car/truck stop 5km north of Valemount is currently operating with reduced hours of just 6am to 1pm, meaning using the washrooms or getting a coffee there isn’t an option at most times of day.
Depenau says the Village’s long-term strategy is “to create partnerships and the conditions for development” that will create more room for professional drivers to safely access services.
The Village does not have any land holdings along the corridor, aside from parkland, where additional parking could be created, however.
“Without this direct option, the Village remains focused on considering possible adjustments to the traffic pattern as well as mitigation measures such as signage, sidewalk development, barricades and continued policy enforcement,” Depenau says.
Sibia says he drove truck in the U.S. for two years and that the situation there was considerably better.
“Wider roads and every 40 miles or so they have rest areas where you can park at least 100 trucks, and the truck stops there they’ve got 200 truck parking spots … at Flying J, you can take a shower and all that stuff. Here (at Karas Mall), you fuel up and leave. If I wanted to use the washroom here, there’s no washroom.”
Nordli agrees that part of the solution is providing more space for semi-truck parking.
“The Village may consider more truck parking along the highway—make it more truck friendly.”