VICTORIA — A major section of the Trans-Canada Highway in British Columbia that was under floodwater since last week reopened Thursday, easing traffic congestion and helping connect the Lower Mainland to the province’s Interior.
Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said the section of Highway 1 between Abbotsford and Chilliwack was cleared to reopen, which provides a vital artery from the Lower Mainland to the Interior via Highway 3 as work on other major damaged and closed road routes continues.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said officials are keeping close watch on the weather as a series of rainstorms are forecast to hit the province, with the worst precipitation expected to arrive on Tuesday.
Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said she’s heard from berry and produce farmers who lost their crops in the floods, while some dairy and hog producers are being helped by food deliveries, at times by helicopters.
Fleming said the reopened section of the highway will not be subject to an essential travel order, but people were asked to use it only if necessary, adding that reduced speed limits will be in effect and slow going should be expected.
“We’ve had geotechnical engineering confirm that the road is safe for travel,” he said at a news conference. “This will provide a lot of congestion relief and mobility for the region.”
Fleming said reopening the major traffic route through the Fraser Valley was welcome news, but motorists were urged to exercise patience and further closures could result if floodwaters return.
Work is underway to reopen the Coquihalla Highway between Hope and Merritt to commercial traffic by late January, he said, and Highway 7 between Hope and Agassiz remains open but under travel restrictions.
A large section of the Trans-Canada Highway through the Fraser Canyon area remains closed due to mudslides and Highway 8, between Spences Bridge and Merritt, was severely damaged by flooding and is also closed.
Work is continuing around the clock on the Coquihalla Highway where five bridges collapsed or sustained serious damage and sections of the major four-lane route were washed out, said Fleming.
“All told, about 20 sites have been badly damaged or washed away,” he said. “This is about 130 kilometres of the corridor that is affected. This is going to be a daunting task to get that highway back to being fully operational.”
He said the ministry is confident, depending on the severity of coming winter storms, that enough temporary repairs can be completed on the Coquihalla to allow commercial traffic by late January, but some sections will be one lane in each direction and under reduced speed limits.
Meanwhile, the federal government and Vancouver Fraser Port Authority announced they are working together to address supply chain disruptions. A statement from the federal ministers of transport and emergency preparedness says the government is contributing up to $4.1 million to ease bottlenecks at Vancouver ports.
The congestion was caused by the aftermath of floods that severed all rail and road travel between Metro Vancouver and B.C.’s Interior.
The statement says the plan, led by the port authority, will add container storage capacity by opening up an undeveloped 16-hectare parcel of industrial land in Richmond to hold empty containers.
Wind and rainfall warnings blanket most of the B.C. as the province continues its rebuild from the flood damage and prepares for more precipitation. B.C. can expect three rainfall events over the next few days, with a major storm forecast to hit the southern part of the province Tuesday, Farnworth said.
“If you are in a flood-prone area, be prepared to evacuate if asked,” he said.
The government has been making headway on its recovery, with supply chains stabilizing, gas shortages starting to ease and some evacuees allowed to return to their homes. Canadian Pacific Railway announced its first trains have arrived in Vancouver from Kamloops carrying grain and fuel.
Environment Canada says Howe Sound, as well as northern sections of Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, were expected to receive up to 80 millimetres of rain by Friday morning. Southern sections of Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley were forecast to receive up to 50 millimetres.