Long way to go for BC as repairs to Coquihalla Highway, the main route between Vancouver and Kamloops, begin

A collapsed section of a bridge lies in water after severe flooding and landslides on the Coquihalla Highway south of Merritt, BC, as seen in an aerial view from a Canadian Forces reconnaissance flight on Nov. 22, 2021.DARYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

British Columbians were given a sobering verdict on the immensity of the repairs needed to the Coquihalla Highway on Thursday, as the province’s transport minister explained that it will take two months for the critical thoroughfare to allow a slow stream of trucks to return.

Transportation Secretary Rob Fleming told reporters at a flood briefing that the Coquihalla, a popular shortcut connecting Vancouver to Kamloops that was built in the 1980s for a billion dollars, was badly damaged when last week’s atmospheric river rained for a month. to southern BC. two days.

About 20 sites along 80 miles (80 km) of the highway were damaged or washed away, including five bridges where spans completely collapsed or were nearly destroyed, he said.

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“It will be a big job to get that highway back to full operation, but I’m pleased to report that work has begun,” said Mr. Fleming. He had no estimate of the repair costs.

Despite the need to demolish a number of bridges and replace them with temporary structures, the minister said the county is “reasonably optimistic” that all repairs could be completed by the end of January, allowing commercial traffic to flow through the Coast Mountains again. But the minister noted that more extreme weather could derail the plan, and even if it reopens, there will be two long stretches where trucks will have to slow down and alternate in one lane in one direction.

Mr. Fleming gave his highway update as a new series of storms began to rage across BC on Thursday.

BC Public Safety Secretary Mike Farnworth said the storm on Thursday marked the first of three rainfalls in the coming days, with the largest storm forecast to hit the southern part of the county on Tuesday.

Routine rainfall can cause already swollen rivers to rise to dangerous heights, and he urged residents to prepare for evacuations and watch for updates.

“These storms come at a time when we are already grappling with the most destructive weather we have ever seen,” said Mr. farnworth.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will tour Abbotsford on Friday, meeting with state, municipal and First Nation leaders, as well as the soldiers, first responders and volunteers who have helped the farming community hit hard by flooding. He is then scheduled to fly to Victoria to meet Prime Minister John Horgan later in the day.

Meanwhile, the provincial government says the section of Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) between Abbotsford and Chilliwack has been cleared to reopen and it will connect the Lower Mainland inland via Southern Highway 3 as major roads remain. be constructed. rebuilt after last week’s floods.

This recently reopened section is not subject to an essential travel order, but the government is asking people to stay off Highway 1 through Abbotsford unless travel is necessary, adding that reduced speed limits will be in place so drivers can expect slow traffic.

Last week’s storm also kept Trans-Canada closed an hour’s drive north of Hope, where it parallels the Coquihalla, only further west. The government said there is no timetable for reopening that piece as evaluations of the destruction continue.

Jeremy G. Venditti, a professor and director of environmental sciences at Simon Fraser University in BC, traveled by plane through the Fraser Canyon last Friday as part of his investigation into how the 2019 Big Bar landslide affected salmon migration.

He and his team counted 15 recent landslides that damaged rail lines or the Trans-Canada. That’s significantly more than the one or two a year that normally hit this deep fissure carved by the Fraser River, he said.

“The two things that surprised me were the size of it — that huge cluster of damage that happened in the northern part of the canyon — and then the extent of some of those cuts,” said Dr. venditti.

Despite these two critical inland highways remaining closed, BC has made progress with recovery efforts, with supply chains stabilizing, gas shortages beginning to ease and some evacuees allowed to return to their homes in Merritt and Princeton. Canadian Pacific Railway has announced that the first trains have arrived in Vancouver from Kamloops with grain and fuel.

Ottawa and the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority also announced that they are working together to address supply chain disruptions. A statement from federal ministers of transportation and emergency preparedness says the government is contributing up to $4.1 million to reduce bottlenecks in Vancouver’s ports caused when all rail lines and roads to the interior were cut last week.

Steven Rice, director of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, said it could be years before some residents of Spences Bridge, northwest of Merritt, can return home after flooding and a mudslide that hit the area, washing away many sections of Highway 8. .

Mr Rice, who is also a farmer, said he and many other residents were forced to flee their properties with little more than clothes on their backs. He said the Nicola River, which runs along flood-damaged Highway 8, has changed course and flooded some farms.

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said repairs to his community’s extensive levee system are about 95 percent complete and will be ready for the next major rainfall over the weekend.

“We have done everything we can to move forward,” he said.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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