Coquihalla Highway to reopen to essential traffic by Monday after storms

Coquihalla Highway to reopen to essential traffic by Monday after storms

VANCOUVER – A key highway link between British Columbia’s Lower Mainland and the rest of the province will reopen to essential traffic by the end of the day on Monday, five weeks after it was heavily damaged by severe rainstorms.

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said Wednesday that the response by contractors and engineers to get the Coquihalla Highway open is as unprecedented as the storms that damaged it in the first place. At least 20 separate sites were damaged or destroyed on the route, including seven bridges that were either swept away or collapsed.

Fleming said commercial trucks and intercity buses will be allowed to use the route, resuming transportation of goods and services.

Highway 3 has been the only route available into the Interior of B.C. since a series of storms swamped the southern part of the province.

Officials say some sections of the route will be one lane in each direction and power still hasn’t been restored, so truckers will only have lighting in the snow sheds and brake checks with the use of generators.

Fleming said the essential travel designation will be lifted for Highway 3 a day after the Coquihalla Highway reopens.

He says caution is needed when driving on Highway 3.

“It’s a safe route as long as people are prepared, responsible and drive to the conditions, but it’s a mountainous route.”

Earlier Wednesday, a panel of engineers said better forecasting and co-ordination could help prepare British Columbia for natural disasters, while they warn the spring thaw and rain may compound damage caused by recent floods.

The experts from the University of British Columbia shared their preliminary observations on November’s floods, with geotechnical engineer Jonathan Fannin warning that snowmelt in the spring could add new pressure to dikes, highways and bridges.

“I think it’s in the back of our minds as the next expected demand on our system,” he said.

Spring thaws were responsible for the most catastrophic flood events in the Fraser Valley before the flooding this fall, Fannin said. They more commonly affect the Fraser River, not the Sumas River, which spilled onto farmland in Abbotsford.

In Merritt, which was ordered to evacuate last month, spring thaws are responsible for about 70 per cent of flood events, though they tend to be less severe than fall flooding, said Steven Weijs, an expert on hydrological modelling.

“Now we’re, of course, in a special situation because we have damaged infrastructure, which is more vulnerable,” he said.

When it comes to preparations, Fannin said British Columbia can learn from places like Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro, where centralized warning systems protect the public from hazards and storms.

Scott McDougall, who specializes in geohazard mitigation, said British Columbia’s hazard response has typically been fragmented.

“These risk-based decisions are made at individual sites for individual hazards,” he said, noting the panel itself was an example of how hazard experts from different fields could come together.

-By Hina Alam and Amy Smart

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 15, 2021.

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