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Citing limited resources, increased maintenance costs and a need for infrastructure improvements, the B.C. government announced Tuesday it's looking for a private investor to take over the operation of the Coquihalla Highway.

Transportation Minister Judith Reid said the province will remain responsible for the roadbed and right-of-way, but a private operator will take over the maintenance and rehabilitation of the 115-kilometre stretch of highway between Hope and Merritt, in B.C.'s interior.

The successful private operator will pay the province a one-time fee for the right to operate the highway, but will recover costs through tolls, Ms. Reid added.

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Tolls for cars and trucks will be increased by $3 to $13; commercial vehicle tolls will remain the same. Those who travel the highway frequently will be able to purchase passes for $50, allowing them unlimited travel on the route for 90 days. The increased rates won't come into effect until the province has finished its operator selection process by December.

The B.C. government began examining the possibility of privatizing the Coquihalla last summer. The province has already set up highway maintenance contracts with private operators across B.C.

The Coquihalla Highway - completed in 1987 - was designed to bypass the narrow and winding Trans-Canada Highway which runs through the Fraser Canyon. Roughly three million trips are made along the Coquihalla each year.



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