Coquihalla Highway reopens to commercial traffic

·2 min read
Heavy equipment is pictured near Hope, B.C., on Monday as work continues to rebuild the southbound lanes of the Coquihalla Highway that were washed away last month by flooding. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Heavy equipment is pictured near Hope, B.C., on Monday as work continues to rebuild the southbound lanes of the Coquihalla Highway that were washed away last month by flooding. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Coquihalla Highway has reopened to commercial traffic and inter-city buses a month after it was significantly damaged by floods and mudslides.

The arterial route that connects Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley to the B.C. Interior was damaged in more than 20 places after mudslides in mid-November knocked out multiple bridges.

The highway had been closed to all travel since Nov. 15.

Effective Monday, the Coquihalla, also known as Highway 5, is available to commercial vehicles with a minimum licensed gross vehicle weight (GVW) of 11,794 kilograms.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said around-the-clock work by crews to make temporary repairs was a "remarkable feat" of engineering.

Permanent repairs to the stretch will take longer, Fleming said, and will occur as essential traffic flows through the corridor. There is no date set for when the highway will open to all traffic.

The work was a result of historic efforts by the Transportation ministry and contractors, said Kelly Scott, president of the B.C. Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association. He said there were more than 300 workers and 200 machines working away at different job sites along the highway.

Three contracting companies — including pipeline workers and their equipment, who diverted their efforts to the highway — tackled the temporary repairs.

"We really had a three-headed dragon that was really attacking this, with the support of every other road builder in the province of British Columbia and their suppliers," Scott said.

"We've never seen the industry come together so quickly with the Ministry of Transportation."

While the Coquihalla is now open, the real engineering work of building it back better is just beginning, Scott said.

"We're not going to see the Coquihalla as we remember it six months ago for a while."

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Route will take longer

With most commercial vehicles moving to Highway 5, travel restrictions will be lifted from Highway 3 at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 21, allowing the route between Hope and Princeton to be used for non-essential travel.

Travel restrictions have also been lifted from Highway 99 between Pemberton and Lillooet. However, vehicles over 14,500 kilograms GVW are still not permitted on this section of Highway 99.

There will be checkpoints at Hope and Merritt to ensure non-essential traffic is kept off the Coquihalla Highway on Dec. 20.

B.C. Ministry of Transportation
B.C. Ministry of Transportation

Some sections of the road only have two lanes open, officials said, noting that the route will take 45 minutes longer than usual to travel in ideal weather conditions.

The province is still urging people not to travel on B.C.'s highway system unless it is essential.

Highway 1, which is still closed through the Fraser Canyon, is expected to be open in mid-January.

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