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Highway reopening caution: ‘It is not the Coquihalla as we know it’

Some sections of the route will be one lane in each direction and power still hasn’t been restored
A flagger directs construction traffic while heavy equipment is used as repairs to a bridge and road that was washed out by flooding are underway on the Coquihalla Highway near Carolin Mine Road, northeast of Hope, B.C., Friday, Dec. 10, 2021. According to the B.C. Transportation Ministry the highway, which was heavily damaged in numerous places during last month’s flooding and mudslides, is on track to reopen to essential travel in early January if weather cooperates. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A key highway link between British Columbia’s Lower Mainland and the rest of the province may be reopening soon, but it won’t be what drivers remember.

The Coquihalla Highway will reopen to essential traffic by the end of the day on Monday, five weeks after it was heavily damaged by severe rainstorms.

Paula Cousins, regional executive director for the Ministry of Transportation, said while the highway will be open, “it is not the Coquihalla as we know it. “

Some sections of the route will be one lane in each direction and power still hasn’t been restored, so truckers will only have lighting in the snow sheds and brake checks with the use of generators, she said.

There’ll be reduced cellphone coverage, electronic vehicle charging stations will not be functional and commercial drivers can expect reduced speed limits, she added.

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said the pending reopening is “one of the most remarkable engineering feats in recent memory in the province of British Columbia.”

He said the response by contractors and engineers to repair the route is as unprecedented as the storms that damaged it in the first place.

At least 20 separate sites were torn up, destroyed or washed away on the route, including seven bridges that were either undermined or collapsed.

Commercial trucks and intercity buses will be the only vehicles allowed to use the route, resuming transportation of goods and services, he said.

“The exact time of day will be determined over the next few days as we complete some final pieces of work that are needed for that reopening including some paving,” Fleming said at a news conference Wednesday.

Permanent repairs and fixes to the Coquihalla Highway will take time and more information will be given in the new year, he noted.

“This is a significant milestone for our supply chains that will have economic benefits for all British Columbians who’ve seen supply chain interruptions and indeed for a connection to the rest of the country,” he said.

Highway 3 has been the main route available into the Interior of B.C. since a series of storms swamped the southern part of the province.

Fleming said the essential travel designation will be lifted for Highway 3 a day after the Coquihalla Highway reopens.

Caution is needed when driving on Highway 3, he said.

“It’s a safe route as long as people are prepared, responsible and drive to the conditions, but it’s a mountainous route.”

Highway 99, where four people died in a mudslide and one remains missing, will also be opened for general travel starting Monday, although commercial vehicles won’t be allowed on the road between Pemberton and Lillooet.

—The Canadian Press

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