At the request of the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) board, representatives of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure provided an update on future highway improvement projects in the South Shuswap and Three Valley Gap. They also fielded questions on the planned projects near Chase and Salmon Arm.
“I think it’s important that we all know that the only part of the Trans-Canada Highway that isn’t four-laned between Ontario and Vancouver is the section that’s in the CSRD,” said Jennifer Fraser, the director of the ministry’s Trans-Canada Highway program.
Fraser said only 33 per cent of the stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway between Kamloops and Golden is four-laned. She added that the stretch of two-lane highway, much of which traverses mountainous terrain, receives an average traffic volume of 4,000 to 7,000 vehicles per day.
Peak volumes in the summer can reach 15,000 vehicles per day, placing tremendous strain on highway infrastructure and drivers.
Fraser also said that approximately 30 per cent of traffic on the road on any given day is transport trucks.
“The highways aren’t designed to carry that much traffic or that size of traffic,” said Mark McKee, the mayor of Revelstoke.
McKee expressed concern over the number of transport trucks on the highway and stated that he thinks passing lanes need to be extended longer than two kilometres in order to mitigate driver frustration.
Fraser outlined the ministry’s plan for the Trans-Canada highway improvement projects in 2018 and 2019. She said the North Fork Bridge project east of Sicamous will be completed this fall and the Donald bridge replacement west of Golden will follow in the fall of 2019.
In the 2018/19 fiscal year the ministry also hopes to tender a project in the Illecillewaet area between Revelstoke and Golden that will four-lane a two-kilometre stretch of the highway to improve passing opportunities, create a brake check area and allow for more vehicle storage during avalanche and other highway closures.
Fraser said the ministry also plans to tender one section of the Salmon Arm West project and is hopeful that the federal government will enter into a cost- sharing agreement that will allow them to get a firm design in place for the RW Bruhn Bridge and Quartz Bridge restoration projects.
Director Chad Eliason asked about delays on the Salmon Arm West highway expansion which was once expected to break ground in the spring of 2017.
“I recognize that that project is delayed. The challenge is continuing to work with the First Nations communities adjacent to the project to ensure we can reach an accommodation agreement,” Fraser said.
She added that due to a recent provincial government announcement that put a new Crown corporation, called BC Infrastructure Benefits Inc., in charge of labour for all major provincial infrastructure projects, the tenders on some projects, including Salmon Arm West may be delayed.
“My understanding is that there is a hope that that entity will be created sometime in the fall,” she said.
Fraser said an agreement with local First Nations is very close and it is possible that the project could be tendered as early as this fall, but stressed that with so many variables, anything is possible.
Another area of the Trans-Canada Highway about which directors expressed concern is the stretch that passes through the South Shuswap.
Electoral Area C director Paul Demenok said development in Sorrento is basically strangled because there have been no assurances about whether the highway will go through or around town when it is upgraded to four lanes. He also said the section of highway between the Squilax Bridge and Sorrento, particularly around Cruikshank point, is especially dangerous.
“I would like to, on behalf of the 8,000 people that live in Area C, the South Shuswap, beg the Ministry of Transportation to consider its plans and how it affects our community and our economic development, because we’re not even on your radar screens now,” Demenok said.
Fraser said she agrees that Cruikshank Point is a major project with major safety concerns involved; however the greatest number of vehicle accidents per kilometre are taking place between Sicamous and Golden so that is where the ministry’s primary focus is.
When asked by Area F director Larry Morgan about the highway expansion projects west of Chase, Fraser said although they have not moved to tender design work, the project is moving along quickly and an archaeological and geotechnical assessment of the Jade Mountain portion of the project is underway.
Ron Sharp, the ministry’s district manger of Rocky Mountain district, updated the board on improvements to the rock-fall and avalanche mitigation system in the Three Valley Gap area.
He said the remote avalanche triggering system in the area is working well and reducing closure times.
As well, a pilot project involving a new rock-fall screen, which is expected to be able to withstand an avalanche, will be installed as soon as a suitable supplier for the screen can be found.
Sharp said an expansion of the highway at Three Valley Gap is not on the table at the moment but four-laning the rest of the highway will help take the pressure off it.
McKee said expenses for highway projects in the mountainous CSRD are so high that it is very easy for them to be put on the back burner, as he has seen happen several times since he has been involved with local government.
“Every one of our communities should be sending a message to the federal and provincial governments to get this work done,” said Terry Rysz, mayor of Sicamous.