It appears Highway 3, the Hope-Princeton Highway, is the best hope at restoring a major road link between the Lower Mainland and B.C. Interior in the short term.
Minister of Transportation Rob Fleming said Tuesday the government should be able to provide an update on timelines for reopening in the coming days “and whether it can be reopened by the end of the weekend.”
“We fully recognize how important it is right now in British Columbia to reopen the road connections from the Lower Mainland to the Interior to get supply chains moving again,” Fleming said.
“Staff across many ministries and agencies are prioritizing this in our planning, it is an unprecedented level of cooperation.”
The Coquihalla Highway between Hope and Merritt has sustained catastrophic damage. Five roadway structures have been compromised and there have been multiple washouts.
The Coquihalla, along with the Trans-Canada Highway in the Fraser Canyon, will “clearly take longer… based on the images that people have seen, the infrastructure damage there is significant.”
The provincial government has now flown Highway 3 and segments of the roadway are covered in debris. Contractors have now been mobilized at the west end of the slide site.
"As we complete our geotechnical assessment, we'll be able to start moving the material on that corridor and... we'll have a better understanding of our timelines for being able to look at access in the coming days," said Janelle Staite with the Ministry of Transportation.
Highway 12 between Lillooet and Lytton should be open later today.
Highway 99 south of Lillooet, where at least one person lost their life in a slide, has now been cleared by geotechnical engineers for cleanup to start during the daylight hours. A timeline for reopening will be announced tomorrow.
Highway 8 south of Spences Bridge has sustained “significant damage” and has lost a bridge.
“What we're seeing is a natural disaster,” said Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, adding a province-wide state of emergency is “on the table.”
He said the impacts of the massive rainfall were much greater than expected.
The Town of Hope is currently supporting more than 1,100 stranded people. Fleming said emergency crews are working around the clock to gain access to the community to allow motorists to escape.
Farnworth said all motorists stuck on highways have now been rescued.
Armel Castellan of Environment Canada said the weather system that swamped B.C. has been calculated to be a one-in-50-year event. In some areas, it was a once-in-a-century event.
Castellan said climate change will make these so-called “atmospheric rivers” more potent and longer lasting. “So something to consider as we go forward in the next decades.”
In addition to the single confirmed fatality on Highway 99, police said they have reports of two people unaccounted for. Search crews are currently combing debris fields at slide sites searching for other victims.