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B.C. storm: More highway closures could be implemented, province warns

British Columbians are being asked to keep up to date on the latest forecasts and advisories from Environment Canada.
Crews remove the damaged jump span on Jessica Bridge along the Coquihalla Highway, on Monday, Nov. 22. 2021.

An order limiting travel on Highway 7 is being extended and the government is warning more highway closures could be implemented in the coming days with heavy rain expected to hit parts of southern B.C. again.

“This will impact already soaked lands and waterways. The next nine or 10 days could be quite challenging,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

He advised people to keep up to date on the latest forecasts and advisories from Environment Canada.

Transportation minister Rob Fleming announced the essential travel order will be extended along the Highway 7 corridor, to include the segment between Agassiz and Mission. It goes into effect at 8 p.m. Tuesday, between Murray Street in Mission and Highway 1 in Hope.

“As we continue to work to reopen Highway 1, we need to ensure that the supply chain can move with limited disruption. Whether it’s milk trucks, fuel trucks or food deliveries, these essential goods are struggling right now to get through some of the congestion we’re seeing in the Lower Mainland,” explained Fleming.

He pointed out that on Monday night there were brief closures on Highway 7 and Highway 99, entirely due to preventable accidents. He reminded everyone that conditions are not normal and drivers need to ask themselves if they need to be out there. If they do venture out, they need to slow down.

The definition of essential travel will be updated to include public transit vehicles, charter buses and school buses to ensure students and teachers can get to schools, and essential workers, like those in health care, can get to work.

Currently, there is no estimated time of opening for the stretch of Highway 1 that remains closed between Abbotsford and Chilliwack.

“Reopening all of the flooded parts of Highway 1 remains our priority but a lot of it depends on upcoming weather events. There is no estimated time of opening just now. It’s raining again in the Sumas and we don’t know what more precipitation will do to impact Highway 1 further.”

However, he noted the water has receded on some portions of the eastbound lanes, and the government might know more by the end of the day Wednesday about additional reopenings.

Currently, the Highway 7-to-Highway 3 route is the only open corridor for commercial vehicles between the Lower Mainland and the Interior. There was a closure for a couple of hours on Monday on a stretch of Highway 3 damaged in last week's storm event, near Manning Park. It was a pre-emptive closure; geotechnical engineers arrived on the scene and determined the road could reopen, with monitoring in place.

Fleming said assessment of Highway 5, the Coquihalla, continues and a substantive update is expected in the coming days.

“We have a lot of engineers out looking at the infrastructure damage that’s been sustained. We’re working with our federal partners, road maintenance contractors, geotech staff have been flown into some of the sites. There are about five of them (portions of the road) that are broken, that have been significantly degraded and damaged. We’ll have more to say once our engineering staff have had a look at what temporary repairs and long-term repair plans look like and we’ll be sharing that with the public.”

Highway 8 between Merritt and Spences Bridge has seen some of the worst damage, and it could be a long time before it is back in service.

Eighteen segments of the highway sustained substantial damage. Four bridges are gone or damaged and a temporary bridge has been set up on a side road about 17 kilometres west of Merritt for Indigenous communities and some local residents to use, to connect to the rest of the province.

Fleming said permanent repairs to Highway 8 are going to take some time and provincial staff will be engaging with local Indigenous and impacted residents in the coming days.

Highway 99 is open north of Pemberton to Lillooet, but for essential travel only.

With more storms on the way, the minister said extra crews and equipment are ready. He warned the province may have to preemptively close highways to ensure the public's safety.