British Columbia

Cariboo residents experiencing road closures due to washouts and landslides fear being stranded

Residents of B.C.'s Cariboo region say they're becoming increasingly frustrated by a lack of government action addressing deteriorating road conditions caused by climate-change driven washouts and landslides.

Province says it has yet to formulate a long-term plan to address road issues made worse by climate change

This part of the Quesnel-Hixon Road north of the Cottonwood River in B.C.'s central Interior was reported washed out on April 30. (Emcon Services Inc.)

Hixon resident Carolyn Dobbs-Sutherland drives 60 kilometres every day south to Quesnel, in the Cariboo region of B.C.'s central Interior, via the Quesnel-Hixon Road.

But, she says, she can't anymore because a part of the road located four kilometres from her house was washed out by high water last weekend.

"You could actually see the physical difference to the road disposition and the cracks," she said Tuesday on Daybreak North about what she observed before it was closed. 

"When you're driving over and you glimpse down, you [would] see water moving underneath the road through a crack."

Road made inaccessible by washouts and landslides have become a recurring theme every spring in the Cariboo, but Dobbs-Sutherland — who has lived in the region for four decades — says she feels over the past four years the problem has been rapidly getting worse, due to a lack of provincial oversight.

Hixon, B.C., resident Carolyn Dobbs-Sutherland says she cannot use the Quesnel-Hixon Road to drive to Quesnel because of the severe damage caused by washouts. (Carolyn Dobbs-Sutherland)

"Roads can only be neglected for so long until they finally just deteriorate to the point where you can't drive on them anymore," she said.

On April 30, Emcon, which maintains several B.C. highways and roads, reported the section of the Quesnel-Hixon Road near the Cottonwood River was completely closed due to damage from a washout.

It's still being repaired.

Since last week, Emcon has also reported damage on Highway 97 and other roads near Quesnel caused by landslides and high water. 

Now, Dobbs-Sutherland says, she has to detour north to Olson Road in order to access Highway 97 and drive to Quesnel , which, she says, is poorly maintained.

"It [Olson Road] was paved, but there's not a lot of pavement left on it," she said. "It requires regular maintenance, if you're going to have that type of heavy vehicle and that amount of vehicle traffic over it."

B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming, who assumed his post in November, said the province doesn't lack resources for road maintenance, but it needs a long-term plan to permanently fix the geotechnical challenges on Cariboo roads.

"We need … to proactively look at the permanent changes to the hydrology in the area and how we build more resilient infrastructure in the Cariboo, so that we can withstand a changing climate and the impact it has on our infrastructure," Fleming said Wednesday on Daybreak North.

Fleming also said the province is paying close attention to what's happening in areas near the Cottonwood River.

"We're monitoring that and we're putting information out to people that live in the area, [notifying them] of any changes that happen with road closures and conditions," he said.

B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming says the province needs a long-term plan to address the geotechnical challenges on some Cariboo roads. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

But B.C. Liberal Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes said people living in the region are tired of hearing the province say it's monitoring the situation, instead of doing something about it.

"It takes years and years to get those roads fixed, and people's lives have been dramatically impacted," Oakes said Monday on CBC's Daybreak North. "We can't get ambulances on some of these detour roads … what happens if there's an issue? Will they say they'll bring a helicopter in? Well, but it's weather-dependent."

Oakes also said if the Cariboo were B.C.'s Lower Mainland, the province would have taken more actions to address the road infrastructure issues.

"It's not about pointing fingers, it's not about pointing blame," she continued. "We've got to start looking differently at what we're doing on the ground."

Tap the link below to hear Coralee Oakes's interview on Daybreak North:

Landslides and washouts are affecting roads across the Cariboo. MLA Coralee Oakes says immediate action is needed to prevent even more disruption. 11:22

Tap the link below to hear Rob Fleming's interview on Daybreak North:

Residents in the Cariboo say they've been warning the province about the state of the roads for months. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming addresses those concerns. 11:38

With files from Daybreak North and Dana Kelly

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