You’d think road-side trash cans would be an unlikely thing to be nostalgic about. Unless you’re from Manitoba, and the trash can is a four-foot white fibreglass globe with a round opening. That was Orbit, a highway litter program that used space-age symbolism to encourage drivers to, as the signs put it, “put your trash into Orbit.” I remember the globular trash cans well from childhood road trips in the 1970s. But in the end they were abused—set on fire, shot or filled with all kinds of garbage—and increasingly expensive to replace, so the program wound down in the 1990s. CBC Manitoba has the story of Orbit, and what may be the last surviving Orbit receptacle—which was also featured in James Rewucki’s 2013 short film, Where Have All the Orbits Gone?
Last weekend there was a major accident on Autoroute 50 near Buckingham: a head-on collision left one woman dead; a man is being charged with impaired driving.
Most of Autoroute 50 is a two-lane expressway, which might need some explaining. It’s an undivided, two-lane highway built to freeway standards. Cars travel at freeway speeds (100 km/h in this case) but there’s only one lane of traffic in each direction (except for occasional passing lanes), separated by a double yellow line. It’s also literally half of a freeway: the overpasses are built to accommodate a full freeway, but only one of the two roadways is built; there’s space for the other roadway to be built later.
Seven people have been killed in accidents along the undivided stretch of Autoroute 50 since 2013, which is leading to calls to build that other half of the freeway. Having taken that stretch of highway more than once myself, I understand the problem: drivers go fast and tailgate you until the next passing lane. Freeway-style driving on a two-lane highway does not make for a relaxing drive.
But the old highway that Autoroute 50 bypasses, Route 148, isn’t completely safe either. In 2007 a 14-vehicle crash east of Masson-Angers killed one and injured six. Route 148 is twisty and scenic and passes through every town; Autoroute 50 is straight and has great sight lines. It’s not an inherently dangerous road — that is, until you put speeding and drunk drivers on it. If the traffic levels warrant twinning some of Autoroute 50, so be it, but I’m skeptical of solving behavioural problems with engineering. Twinning a highway might address head-on collisions, but it doesn’t make speeding or impaired driving go away.