British Columbians hoping to travel locally over the holidays are being urged to research their routes and plan ahead, as restrictions are expected to remain in place on several major highways impacted by last month’s severe flooding.
The province is now winding down its emergency response and shifting its attention to recovery and debris management after a series of rainstorms destroyed critical infrastructure and paralyzed the South Coast. Although the situation on the ground is improving, provincial government officials cautioned that operations are still far from normal.
“Our province has been through an extremely challenging year, so being able to visit with those closest to us is more important than ever,” Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said at a news conference on Monday. “But I want to remind everyone to plan ahead. Take the time to research your trip and check DriveBC for the latest updates on road conditions and detours.”
Among the impacted highways is Highway 99, which is restricted to essential vehicles under 14,000 kilograms between Pemberton and Lillooet, where there have been two significant mudslides in recent weeks. Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton, in B.C.’s Interior, is also restricted to essential travel. Checkpoints are in place, and those who flout the rules can be fined.
“Right now, it would not be very pleasant to drive to a ski hill from the Lower Mainland to the Interior,” Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said Monday. “There are a lot of trucks there, it’s a very busy corridor. It’s slow and winding. It takes approximately twice as long to get from Surrey to Keremeos right now.”
The Coquihalla Highway, which the floods damaged in 20 places over 130 kilometres, will remain closed this month. Mr. Fleming said the goal is to have enough temporary repairs completed by late January to allow commercial traffic along the corridor, which is the main route between Vancouver and Kamloops.
Highway 1, the main route of the Trans-Canada Highway in B.C., has been operating smoothly since the road reopened to all traffic between Abbotsford and Hope last Thursday, Mr. Fleming said. Highway 7, which serves as an alternative to Highway 1, was expected to reopen to all traffic on Monday.
The Trans Mountain pipeline, which normally supplies roughly 85 per cent of the province’s fuel, restarted on Sunday after a precautionary three-week shutdown during the floods. But Mr. Farnworth said the line is not yet fully restored.
“We need to remember that the pipeline has to be brought up to speed slowly. It has to be pressurized over a number of days,” he said, adding that B.C. continues to source fuel from Alberta and the United States.
B.C. has limited fuel buying to 30 litres per purchase for non-essential drivers until Dec. 14, in an effort to ration the supply. The minister said the province is aiming to lift that restriction as soon as possible.
Asked about airlines potentially price gouging for flights within the province, Mr. Farnworth said air travel is a federally regulated industry and B.C. is engaged with Ottawa on the issue.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Canadian Armed Forces personnel that were deployed to B.C. to assist with food drops, rescues and sandbagging efforts have begun to depart. Of more than 500 members that were in the province, 126 will remain in Chilliwack to support life safety work and emergency response.
In Abbotsford, a local return-home plan continued Monday with the lifting of an evacuation order for the central area of the Sumas Prairie. An evacuation order for the north area was lifted last Friday.
Mayor Henry Braun said Monday that the Sumas Prairie lake bottom had dropped by 1.78 metres over the weekend, but that many fields still have four to five feet of standing water and it will be some time before these areas become accessible again.
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