’Incredibly difficult’ for BC truck drivers during extended highway closures

Tough trucking on Hwy 3

It’s not getting any easier for truck drivers trying to move goods to markets in the BC Interior and beyond.

Highway 3 continues to be the only major BC route connecting the Lower Mainland with the Interior, and it doesn’t appear that will be changing in the immediate future.

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Rob Fleming told a news conference Monday that he’s still optimistic that Highway 5, the Coquihalla, could be reopened with temporary fixes by the end of January. However, he said the weather will be a key factor in whether crews can stick to that timeline.

Highway 3 is only open to commercial traffic and limited other vehicles under an essential travel order, and Fleming would not give a timeline on when that could be lifted.

For truck drivers, navigating the winding, mountainous highway is a challenge, and it’s adding to the stress they face to get goods to their destination as quickly as possible.

“It’s been incredibly difficult,” said Dave Earle, President and CEO, BC Trucking Association.

“We’ve surveyed our members, and what we’re finding is depending on the routes, when we’re running, it’s taking anywhere from two to three times as long for a lot of routes.”

He adds it’s been especially challenging dealing with the big increase in traffic moving from the coast to the Interior.

“A run from a distribution centre in Langley to Kelowna, for example, used to take six hours in a commercial vehicle. So, you could do a run, you could couple, uncouple and come back. You could do a rounder in a day.

"What’s happening now is that’s taking the better part of 12 hours to get there. So that means you’re doing one run and then you’re overnighting, then you’re coming back. But the real problem here is the unpredictability.”

He says that unpredictability creates a whole set of new challenges.

Typically a driver will do reloads; where they deliver a load and then bring back another load on their return trip. Earle said it’s been difficult to make those arrangements when it’s unclear how long the trip will take.

The slow-go is having an impact on delivery times with the holidays fast approaching. Earle points out that using alternate routes through the United States can triple the time a driver is on the road.

Safety is also a major concern.

The province has redeployed some winter maintenance contractors from portions of the Coquihalla and Highway 1 onto Highway 3.

Earle believes the Ministry of Transportation faces a tough decision about when it should allow general traffic back on the route, but he notes it is incredibly busy right now with just trucks moving through.

“Highway 3 in an average month over the year does about 800 commercial moves. That’s about 400 in each direction every day. In the summertime that will peak around 1,200. We were seeing that last week when the highway was open for 24 hours and we’re there at peak volumes. We expect that to grow and grow and grow, simply because of the volume that needs to move.”

He also says the ministry has to pay attention to how much traffic can be allowed on the road and how it will affect the movement of goods.

“I can only imagine the frustration of people who can’t move through the province and can’t move through their communities. My only caution on that is we can’t have the highway shut down. So whatever we have to do to make sure it stays open, that is what we have to do.”

Truck drivers are frustrated too. They must abide by regulations that limit how long they can be behind the wheel and there are only very limited exemptions right now related to the movement of essential goods like fuel and perishables.

“For the rest of it, their hours are still their hours. So they’re frustrated because they can’t do the regular types of moves.”

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