Since the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) last came to Quesnel to update the community on recovery work for the West Fraser Road washout in late September, the project team has come up with a preferred option for a new alignment of the road.
This preferred option was presented Wednesday (May 1) during an open house at the West Fraser Centre. MOTI staff and project engineers were on hand to discuss information boards they had set up around the Dunkley Room at the West Fraser Centre, which displayed the work they have done, the options they have considered and the alignment they prefer.
“The point of the open house today is really to share with the community the work we’ve been undertaking since we last met with them last September,” said Todd Hubner, MOTI’s district manager of transportation for the Cariboo district. “Since that time, we’ve been doing a significant amount of engineering, looking at alternate route alignments, and then from that, basically refining an alignment of choice and actually going and ground-proofing that through some geotechnical work we’ve done over the last couple of months.”
Hubner says with the open house, they wanted to update the community on the status of the project and also wanted to seek feedback from the community.
Last April, high water levels from the spring freshet caused Narcosli Creek to erode five sections of the West Fraser Road, on the west side of the Fraser River, approximately 17 kilometres south of Quesnel.
The damage was severe, and the road had to be closed. For the past year, residents have had to use a detour that takes them on Garner Road and Webster Lake Road, a two-lane gravel road.
Hubner says work in this area is challenging because of the geological setting.
“One of the challenges with the Quesnel area is the geological setting that it’s in,” said Hubner. “There are a significant number of ancient slide complexes in the Quesnel area — we’ve got one near Marsh Drive, we’ve got one out near Knickerbocker, and we’ve got a large one in the West Fraser area that was triggered last year with the spring freshet. The challenge that resulted from last year’s spring freshet was that not only did we lose the West Fraser alignment, but in order to put it back, what our geotechnical engineers are telling us is that slide complex is very sensitive, and as such, based on their analysis, they feel as though the complex itself is a volume of 27 million cubic metres of material. And given its sensitivity, the ministry had to really be careful about where we chose alternate alignments, knowing that we didn’t want to set ourselves up with a legacy of having to come back here five years after we built something only to face the reality that we need to build it again. We’re looking for a long-term solution to a problem that is very complicated.”
Since last year’s road closure, the ministry has carried out topographic surveys, as well as geotechnical, hydrological, environmental and archaeological assessments to develop otiose to re-establish regular service.
Ten conceptual designs for new route options have been developed, and cost estimates have been completed.
The ministry says it would be very difficult to reinstate the existing alignment of West Fraser Road due to the high risk of further slides that would need to be mitigated. The existing alignment is within the presence of several active landslides that have recently experienced movement at their toe, thereby increasing the risk of a slide in the short- to medium-term or even during reconstruction of the existing road, according to MOTI.
The preferred option
The ministry’s preferred option is a new alignment of West Fraser Road and a new, longer bridge over Narcosli Creek.
“The preferred option is 4.8 kilometres in length, and it originates on the plateau above the failed slide area,” explained Hubner. “It’s founded for the most part in rock, so it’s outside of the existing slide zones, which is comforting, and then it basically traverses down and traverses over Narcosli Creek downstream from the existing crossing. The proposed new bridge is over 100 metres in length, and preliminary estimates in terms of the volume of material that needs to be moved in order to construct the new alignment is in the order of about a million cubic metres. The existing alignment that failed, for cost comparison purposes, the bridge was much shorter, probably half as long, and the route itself of the failed area is 3.8 kilometres in length.”
Hubner says the new alignment would be much wider, with two lanes that are each 3.6 metres and a comparable shoulder of one metre to a metre and a half on either side. The road would be designed for 80 km/hr, and the long-term focus would be for it to be hard-surfaced.
At this point in the process, they are nearing completion of the geotechnical drilling to confirm the feasibility of the preferred alignment, which will take the project into the next phase of work, which is preliminary design, explained Hubner.
“The preliminary design will start to refine a lot of those material types on paper, as well, it will start firming up the quantities, and we can start looking closer at the bridge crossing locations,” he said. “In concert with that, these projects are never cheap to build, so we have been in discussions with the federal government for Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangement to support the reconstruction of the West Fraser Road, so we’re just putting the final touches on the application moving forward. We will be applying to the federal government in the coming weeks for cost support, and we will continue to be working on the design moving forward.”
Preliminary estimates on the option of choice is at a value of $71 million, and Hubner says that as the design process evolves, that number will be refined as well.
The next steps are for the ministry to review feedback from the open house, continue discussion with the federal government for eligibility under the DFAA, confirm the final alignment, proceed with the detailed design, continue consultation with stakeholders, proceed with property acquisition, obtain environmental and Agricultural Land Reserve approvals, prepare tender documents and drawings, and do spring dust control and grinding on the Webster Lake/Garner Road detour.
The MOTI’s project information boards can be viewed online at engage.gov.bc.ca/govtogetherbc/consultation/west-fraser-road-flood-recovery/. As well, the public is being encouraged to provide feedback to this website until May 15. Anyone wishing to provide feedback to the MOTI can also e-mail comments to Rampaul.Dulay@Stantec.com.
Hubner wants local residents to know the ministry is working on improving the detour route along Garner and Webster Lake roads.
“We are continuing to work on the detour route,” he said. “I travelled over the detour today, and Emcon Services, our maintenance contractor for the area, was in the process of grading it to make sure it remains safe and passable. We have a couple of areas that show signs of weakness that we will be working on as well; that involves some base repair work, and we’ll be working closely with Emcon on that to make those necessary repairs. That will be as weather conditions improve somewhat. Things are still quite wet out there; we’ve still got a lot of water in the bush, and in some cases, I still saw snow. That work is certainly going to be undertaken.”
Hubner says they will also be applying a dust suppressant on the Garner-Webster Lake road system, similar to last year, to keep the dust down.
Bill Pattyson, Emcon Service’s Area 18 operations manager, says there are a lot of soft spots on Garner Road, and they are hoping to work with MOTI to address those concerns, starting next week.
“The ground is getting hard enough that we can actually haul rock and dig holes out without damaging the road even more,” he said.
“That’s why it hasn’t been fixed yet; it’s simply because we don’t want to cause anymore damage trying to fix it.”