Highways reopen following collapse of BC Hydro towers
- Highways 1, 7 reopened
- United Boulevard remains closed in sections
- Commute expected to take several extra hours
- Power now restored to all areas
The collapse of two BC Hydro transmission towers in Surrey jammed traffic heading in and out of Metro Vancouver for several hours on Tuesday morning, but the routes have now been reopened.
The first tower on the south bank of the Fraser River collapsed shortly before 9 p.m. PT Monday, dropping high-voltage wires over the river and leaving them dangling across several highways and roads near the Cape Horn Interchange of Highway 1 in Coquitlam.
"The house shook, everything went black and I heard snapping and I thought a tree had fallen," said local resident Sandy Boule.
The tension created by the collapsed tower pulled down another tower further inland near the intersection of King Road and McBride Drive in Surrey and snapped several smaller hydro poles, dropping power lines onto buildings in a residential neighbourhood.
"All of a sudden I heard all the crashing and of course, the TV went out, but then you just see all the lines coming down like spaghetti," said Roger Jackman, who also lives in the area.
Police rerouted traffic in the surrounding areas of Surrey and Coquitlam, including Highways 1, 7, 7B, on the north side of the river and the Port Mann Bridge. Highway 1 is the main connector between Vancouver and the eastern suburbs.
BC Hydro said the power cables were deactivated instantly and there were no safety issues related to power in the lines.
Highways open early
Originally officials estimated it could be 9 a.m. before the power lines were cleared and were warning commuter to stay home or expect delays of several hours on all major routes across the river.
But shortly after 7 a.m., officials announced that the lines had been removed and the routes were reopened to traffic, except along United Boulevard.
United Boulevard, also known as Highway 7B, is expected to remain closed until noon between the Mary Hill Bypass and Fawcett Road while crews work to remove transmission lines that remain in the Fraser River.
About 25,000 BC Hydro customers also lost power initially. But BC Hydro said it had restored power to almost all customers by 6 a.m. Tuesday.
Marine traffic on the Fraser River in the area was also shut down and it is not yet known when it will be reopened. Port officials said updates are being broadcast on marine radio channels 16 and 83B.
RCMP Sgt. Peter Thiessen said no injuries have been reported, but Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said he's concerned by the sudden collapse of the towers.
"My understanding is that Hydro had an engineer on site on this particular tower that collapsed on the Surrey side, that the engineer had left that site with everything all clear … last night," he said.
"An hour later the tower collapsed, so it causes me real concern that Hydro said those ones are safe and then they went anyway," he said.
Erosion caused collapse
David Lebeter, vice-president of field operations and safety with BC Hydro, said high water levels on the Fraser River eroded the soil surrounding the first tower, which was located on the south bank of the Fraser River near the CN Rail yard.
Lebeter said BC Hydro had been monitoring erosion around an adjacent tower further up the river for a week prior to the collapse and had made temporary repairs to stabilize it over the weekend.
"There's two towers side by side, we've been monitoring both of them for a couple of weeks and in the last couple of days we've been doing underwater surveys on the ground below both towers on a daily basis and this one caught us completely by surprise," he said.
On Monday evening the situation deteriorated as a result of increased and unexpected erosion along the river that may have been accelerated by an unexpectedly high water flow, said a statement released by BC Hydro.
"The scour hole moved in a very short period of time in the downstream tower, which isn't the one we were concerned about. We were concerned about the upstream tower," he said.
An engineer was on-site until 8:30 p.m. and there was no indication of any problems with the downstream tower before it collapsed about half an hour later, he said.
Lebeter said a full investigation will be conducted after the clean-up..
"We haven't spent any time focussed on what led to the collapse. All of our efforts have been on making the site safe, protecting public safety, and getting the transportation — both land, river and rail — back to normal," he said.
"Our crews and engineers will be on-site once everything is stabilized. They'll start doing the forensic work to determine what caused it. All we know right now is there was erosion under the one tower that failed," he said.
He said other towers on the Fraser River would also be inspected. He did not have any estimates for the cost of the damage and repairs.