We should start by saying we’re not in favour of speeding on any of the NWT’s highways.
However, it’s sometimes difficult to avoid, because at least one highway has an inappropriately low speed limit.
Therefore, we were disappointed when Hay River Town Council recently missed an opportunity to possibly influence an adjustment of the speed limit on Highway 5.
At its Oct. 23 special meeting, council reviewed a request from Ken Hudson, president of the Fort Smith Metis Council, seeking support for a letter he sent to the GNWT asking that the speed limit on Highway 5 be increased from the current 90 km/h to 100 km/h, mainly because the route is now fully chipsealed.
That seems like a good idea, but most of council didn’t see it that way, expressing concerns about safety, highway rescue and the fact that it’s the GNWT’s business. All legitimate arguments.
However, it is also true that Highway 5 is now a pretty good highway, much better than many sections of Highway 1, especially just north of the NWT/Alberta border and on the world’s longest rollercoaster on Highway 3, closer to Yellowknife. And sections of Highway 1 have a 100 km/h speed limit.
There is also the undeniable fact that virtually no one drives 90 km/h on Highway 5. We would estimate the average speed somewhere between 110 to 120 km/h, even when a 60-kilometre section was not chipsealed through Wood Buffalo National Park.
If we see a vehicle moving at 90 km/h on Highway 5, we don’t think the driver is obeying the speed limit. The more likely possibilities are it’s an impaired driver, the vehicle is having some mechanical issue, or maybe the motorist is scanning the roadway for something that has fallen out of the back of a truck.
There is also the undeniable fact that there is little traffic on Highway 5. No word of a lie, we have occasionally driven the 265 kilometres from Hay River to Fort Smith, or vice versa, without passing a single other vehicle.
And unlike the curvy highway – along the winding Hay River – between Enterprise and Hay River, Highway 5 is devoid of an excessive number of turns. To pass the time and stay awake on our many drives on that highway, we would often watch for straight sections to find out which one was longest. The record is 19 kilometres on a now-chipsealed section through Wood Buffalo National Park.
Of course, like any route, Highway 5 can be hazardous, especially in winter and with bison on the roadway through the aptly named Wood Buffalo National Park.
Even so, we think a 100 km/h speed limit would be quite reasonable. Perhaps like some other highways, the speed limit could be 100 km/h during daylight hours and 90 km/h at night.
There are two overriding reasons for a higher speed limit on Highway 5.
The first is you’ll legally get to your destination faster. And the second, of course, is you’ll be less likely to get a speeding ticket.
Right now, Highway 5 is kind of a speed trap because its speed limit is too low.