Opinion: B.C. traffic chokepoints reveal major weakness in road infrastructure

Opinion: B.C. traffic chokepoints reveal major weakness in road infrastructure
Coquihalla Highway seen damaged following flooding and mudslides last month. (Photo submitted)

It’s important to take a moment and thank all the construction workers, traffic attendants, police/conservation officers, emergency responders, engineers and countless others who, as we speak, are braving freezing, miserable conditions to make sure traffic, goods and resources continue to flow between the B.C. Mainland and the Interior.

Unfortunately, they are the ones who have to pick up the pieces after the fact; to mend everything back together – but (and here’s an eternal question) why does it have to come down to this every time? It always pays to be more prepared now than after the fact. Other than rebuilding immediate access, perhaps newer and bolder options need to considered.

Maybe take a note out of the Japanese mountain road engineering handbook: don’t build over and on the side of mountains, but under and through them; and don’t just have roads, but high-speed rail too. Is it really that insane to imagine a trip from Vancouver to Kelowna in under three hours via a high-speed bullet train, free of traffic jams, white-knuckle driving and stress? No, it isn’t. We’re not Tokyo, and we’re not Beijing; but it can be done; because anything can be done as long as someone has their wallet open.

Surely, there’s a whole roster of ministers and politicians in B.C. who outright yell down to us, “there isn’t enough money!” but the funny part is, Mother Nature doesn’t care about money or whether we bother to get our act together or not; she’ll just come and face-kick us back to the Stone Age as many times as we let her.

Though needless to say, our infrastructure is kind of already in the Stone Age to begin with.

Why is it that, to this day, British Columbians refer to a two-lane road as a highway? It was, perhaps, a “highway” at the dawn of 1910, when the first motor-carriages were hitting the pavement at a brisk 30 km/h, carrying a horse, three or four apples and maybe a chicken. Today, millions of tonnes of cargo are freighted between the Mainland and Interior via truck or train at speeds of over 100 km/h every year, and that number swells more and more as B.C.’s population grows larger, ultimately requiring bigger and wider roads, better shipping access points and, as we’ve seen with a recent spike in traffic accidents on Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton, better safety as well.

Speaking of two-lane highways – the infamously-narrow, curvy and steep Highway 3 remains among the few (and, these days, sometimes the only) accessible waypoints between the Mainland and Interior where truck freight can pass through, since both the Coquihalla (Highway 5), Trans Canada (Highway 1) are closed in key areas, and the 99 (via Squamish – Lillooet) has a weight restriction. The 3, including the 99, also have “essential travel only” designations in place set by the province, which means if you are planning to visit or casually passing through, you may be turned around at key checkpoints; this is to try and mitigate the overwhelming volume of trucks trying to squeeze through and keep non-essential travellers away from adding to the problem. Here’s a list of what is deemed essential or non-essential travel.

Right, so how many will be spending their Christmases here in Victoria then? … *Slowly raises hand*

Many British Columbians are likely wondering by this point, how did it come to this? Well, just take a look at this promotional video showcasing the development of the Coquihalla. I can taste the pride and tobacco-flavoured mustache in his voice as the narrator tells us, “The largest highway project ever undertaken in North America” …which was destroyed in under 48 hours. It was, certainly, at its time, an engineering work of wonder, but nothing else came after the Coquihalla; no additional highway network, no other major infrastructure implementing other modes of transport. For 35-plus years this province has seemingly been operating under the “good enough” ideology, and frankly, it shows in the state of its roads.

We need to do better. Get the federal government involved. Slice open the red tape. Bring in engineers from across Canada, from around the world if need be. If it’s impossible, make it possible. Build a foundation under the foundation and think big, think about the future and the challenges it will bring. Because they are already here; it’s no longer the case of, “I can see the water line slowly approaching, I’ll deal with it when it comes” – that luxury washed away into the river long ago, along with the rest of our highways.

Octavian Lacatusu is a journalist, writer, photographer and marketing specialist. He worked as a reporter and editor throughout Canada for more than 10 years, and his work has appeared in a variety of news outlets and magazines, including CTV News/Bell Media, Toronto Observer and Black Press. In his past time (and to stay relatively sane) he builds LEGO creations that move and drive, and daydreams about cars he can’t possibly afford.

Octavian LacatusuOctavian Lacatusu

Recent Stories

Send us your news tips and videos!