The provincial government says a herculean effort by crews working to repair the Coquihalla Highway is paying off.
If the weather cooperates, Highway 5 between Hope and Merritt is on track to reopen to essential travel in early January, Minister of Transportation Rob Fleming announced Thursday.
The government previously forecast that the highway would reopen at the end of January.
“This is remarkable given the scale of damage on the Coquihalla, and it's a testament to the skill and dedication of everybody who's part of this tremendous effort,” Fleming said.
The minister said they are “throwing everything we have” at the repairs of the Coquihalla, with more than 100 pieces of heavy equipment at work on the roadway.
Work is also progressing well on Highway 1 in the Upper Fraser Canyon, which remains on track to reopen in mid-January.
Fleming said restrictions limiting the use of highways 3 and 99 to essential travel only will be staying in place until the Coquihalla is reopened.
“With upwards of about 3,000 trucks a day now on [Highway 3], with its steep grades and tight curves, it would be dangerous to mix leisure passenger traffic in with convoys of trucks,” Fleming said.
He said British Columbians should not expect leisure travel on highways 3 and 99 this holiday season.
When the Coquihalla reopens in early January it will be with essential travel restrictions. At that point, Highway 3 will be reopened to recreational travel.
Fleming said leisure and non-essential travellers will be expected to use Highway 3 for the duration of the winter while the Coquihalla is set aside for truck and essential traffic.
The repairs being made to the Coquihalla are temporary in nature. It is too early to say how long the essential travel restrictions on the Coquihalla will last, but potentially well into next year.
It was also announced that inter-city bus service is now being allowed on Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton. Bus companies including E-Bus, Mountain Man Mike’s and Rider Express are expected to start providing service on the route.
More options for air travel are also coming.
“Airlines have come to the table to get people to where they need to go without impacting traffic levels on our roadways, and an increase in air travel options will be coming online as airlines work to increase the capacity from Vancouver and Abbotsford airports, into the Interior,” Fleming said.
The update comes as the government warns the public about a winter storm expected to hit the province this weekend.
Up to 25 cm of snow could fall on Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton, the only commercial truck route between the Lower Mainland and BC Interior. The Lower Mainland will receive rainfall totals in the 60 to 80 mm range.
“In particular, the province is urging commercial and essential vehicle drivers along Highway 3 to prepare and be diligent if Environment and Climate Change Canada issues weather alerts,” the government said in a news release.
“The current forecast calls for severe winter weather arriving Friday, Dec. 10, lasting until Sunday, Dec. 12.”