British Columbia

Coquihalla Highway could reopen for commercial use by end of January, minister says

The main highway connecting the Lower Mainland and the Interior could reopen as early as the end of January, if weather co-operates.

Temporary repairs could allow access in 2 months, depending on weather

Parts of the Coquihalla Highway were washed away in heavy rains near the Caroline Mine area close to Hope, B.C. Nov. 15, 2021. (Submitted by Jeremiah Steberl)

B.C.'s Coquihalla Highway could be ready for commercial use in about two months, according to Transportation Minister Rob Fleming. 

The highway was damaged in 20 places during the flood event in mid-November, including several bridges, some of which were completely destroyed. 

During a news conference Thursday, the minister said repair work is already underway: more than 100 pieces of equipment are being utilized this week as part of the repairs and more are being mobilized. Fleming said crews are blasting rock at three sites along the road, and debris has been cleaned up at two more sites.

The minister said it's unclear how much the repair work on Highway 5 will cost, as engineers are still assessing the damage.

"We're reasonably optimistic that enough temporary repairs can be completed to allow commercial traffic on the corridor in two months time in late January," Fleming said, though he cautioned that could be extended depending on weather conditions as the province heads into winter.

A mudslide took out a large portion of the Coquihalla Highway, 11 kilometres south of the Great Bear Snowshed. (B.C. Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure )

When the Coquihalla Highway does reopen, Fleming said "it won't be business as usual;" some sections will have reduced speeds and only one lane in each direction will be open. 

More information will be made available closer to the highway's reopening. 

"We've never seen anything like this in B.C., in terms of how many highways have been impacted all at once," Fleming said. 

"Some of these highways are vital for the movement of central goods, but all of them are vital for the people who live and travel in those areas."

'Historic damage'

Dave Duncan is the general manager of Yellowhead Road and Bridge (Nicola) Ltd., a road maintenance company that works on the Coquihalla Highway. 

"Words don't do it justice. The damage is historic. It's dramatic. There's a lot of work to do," Duncan told host Sarah Penton on CBC's Radio West.

Despite that, Duncan said he was confident about the January reopening date. He says weather is the biggest unknown and the hardest variable to plan for.

"We do get 10 metres of snow on an average winter up on the Coquihalla summit [and] a lot of this damage is north of there," he said. "Today it's falling as rain out there ... [but] when that snow comes and how can we contend with that is really going to be a challenge."

Duncan says the rebuilding process will be a challenge, noting that there were a number of pressures on crews. 

"It's not summer construction [and] there's not three months to plan this out, so you really are working with good engineers and you're working on the fly to make good decisions about what is the infrastructure that can be put in place the quickest that can get this corridor open so that that will give us the time to plan the more permanent repairs," he said. 

"It's really a team effort out there."

With files from Radio West