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

A collapsed section of a bridge sits in the water after severe flooding and landslides on Coquihalla Highway south of Merritt, BC, seen in aerial photo from a Canadian forces reconnaissance flight on November 22, 2021.DARRYL DYCK / The Canadian Press

British Colombians were given a sober assessment on Thursday of the extent of the repairs needed for the Coquihalla Highway as the province’s transport minister explained it would be two months before the vital artery allows a slow flow of trucks to return.

Transport Minister Rob Fleming told reporters at a flood briefing that Coquihalla, a popular shortcut connecting Vancouver with the $ 1 billion Kamloops built in the 1980s, suffered major damage when last week’s atmospheric river delivered a month’s rain to the south. BC two days.

About 20 sites along 130 kilometers of the highway were damaged or washed away, including five bridges where the spans completely collapsed or were almost torn down, he said.

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“This is going to be a daunting task to get that highway back to being fully operational, but I’m happy to report that the work has begun,” said Mr. Fleming. He did not have an estimate of the repair costs.

Despite the need to tear down and replace a number of bridges with temporary structures, the minister said the province is “reasonably optimistic” that all repairs could be completed by the end of January so that commercial traffic can flow through the Coast Mountains again . But the minister noted that the plan could be derailed by more extreme weather, and even when it reopens, there will be two long stretches where trucks will have to brake and alternately drive in one direction on a single lane.

Mr. Fleming gave his highway update when a new series of storms began sweeping across BC on Thursday.

BC’s Secretary of Public Safety Mike Farnworth said the storm on Thursday was the first of three rainfall events over the next few days, with the biggest storm forecast to hit the southern part of the province on Tuesday.

Routine rainfall can cause already swollen rivers to rise to dangerous heights, and he urged residents to prepare for evacuation and keep an eye out for updates.

“These storms are coming at a time when we are already struggling with some of the most devastating weather we have ever seen,” said Mr. Farnworth.

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

Meanwhile, the provincial government says the section of the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) between Abbotsford and Chilliwack has been cleared to reopen and that it will connect the lower mainland with the interior through Southern Highway 3, as major weather routes continues to be rebuilt from last week’s floods.

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

Last week’s storm has also kept Trans-Canada closed for an hour’s drive north of Hope, where it runs parallel to Coquihalla, just further west. The government said there is no timetable for that stretch to be reopened as assessments of the devastation continue.

Jeremy G. Venditti, professor and director of environmental science at BC’s Simon Fraser University, toured the length of Fraser Canyon by plane last Friday as part of his research into how the 2019 Big Bar landslide has affected salmon migration.

He and his team counted 15 recent landslides that damaged railroads or Trans-Canada. It is significantly more than the one or two each year that usually hit this deep fissure that was carved by the Fraser River, he said.

“The two things that surprised me were the extent of it – the huge cluster of damage that was happening in the northern part of the canyon – and then the size of some of these cuts,” said Dr. Venditti.

Despite the fact that these two crucial highways into the interior remain closed, BC has made progress in recovery efforts, supply chains are stabilized, gas shortages begin to ease, and some evacuees are allowed to return to their homes in Merritt and Princeton. The Canadian Pacific Railway announced that their first train has arrived in Vancouver from Kamloops with grain and fuel.

The Ottawa and Vancouver Fraser Port Authority have also announced that they are working together to address supply chain disruptions. A statement from the federal Department of Transportation and Emergency Planning said the government was contributing up to $ 4.1 million to ease bottlenecks in Vancouver ports when all railroads and roads into the interior were cut off last week.

Steven Rice, a director of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, said it could be years before some residents of Spences Bridge, northwest of Merritt, could return home after floods and a mudslide hit the area, flushing several parts of Highway 8 out.

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 the flood-damaged Highway 8, has changed course, leaving some farms underwater.

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said repairs to his community’s extensive dike system were about 95 per cent completed and will be completed before the next major rainfall this weekend.

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

With a report from The Canadian Press

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