$240 million spent so far to repair BC flood-damaged highways, permanent works top $1 billion


It has been a year since the first of a series of powerful atmospheric rivers pounded southwestern British Columbia, killing five people and triggering floods and landslides that destroyed several critical highways.

The storm left the Lower Mainland essentially cut off from the rest of the province, with extensive damage to Highway 5, Highway 8, Highway 1, and blockages on Highway 99 and Highway 3.

Highway 8, the most badly damaged of these roads, was only reopened last week. The temporary freeway replacement that connects Merritt and Spences Bridge relies heavily on the right-of-way of an old rail line.

« It’s great for our downstream communities and for the people of the (Thompson Nicola Regional District) to have access to their homes and that, but in fact this highway is still a construction road, » Chief said. of the Shackan Indian Band, Arnie Lampreau, regarding the temporary highway.

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« I had to remind (Transportation) Minister (Rob) Fleming yesterday that when Highway 5 breaks down, it’s no longer a main thoroughfare to access Highway 1. »

The effects of flooding and devastation still weigh heavily on the Shackan community.

A dozen residences, including that of Lampreau, remain inaccessible after the bridge that connected them to the highway was swept away by the storm last November. He hopes a temporary $7 million replacement can be operational by next year, but said consultations on Highway 8 itself are underway with no timeline for a full repair.

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« Looking at the property and my house right now, I feel like a stranger, » he said.

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« The last few months it’s been really tough. Every time I come here and watch it, a piece of my heart has been broken.

Temporary repairs to Highway 8 cost about $100 million, more than a third of the $240 million the Department of Transportation says has been spent on temporary infrastructure repairs so far.

« The extent of the damage was enormous. Getting Highway 5 into service in 35 days was of course a tremendous achievement and I don’t think anyone expected it before Christmas last year, » said the Transport Minister Rob Fleming.

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“Highway 8 has been tough because about seven kilometers of the entire highway, which was built on silt and paved and extremely vulnerable to all this precipitation, was just washed away in the river. Let’s go. »

According to the department, between $30 million and $40 million has been spent on temporary repairs to Highway 1 between Hope and Cache Creek, with a completion date of 2024.

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Between $45 and $55 million has been spent repairing Highway 5, and permanent repairs are expected to be completed by this winter.

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Fleming told Global News that the cost of turning temporary repairs into permanent highway improvements will likely exceed $1 billion.

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Part of this cost will ensure that the new permanent highways are adapted to climate change and the extreme weather conditions that are expected to accompany it.

“British Columbia is sort of writing the book on new engineering standards for climate adaptation for the 21st century,” Fleming said.

« When we talk about what climate-resilient infrastructure looks like, it’s about how to handle massive atmospheric precipitation events in rivers like this, that means much bigger culverts, that means spans of much larger bridges so water can pass underneath. »

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Fleming said the province relies on the federal government to cover about 70% of those costs.

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Meanwhile, parts of the town of Merritt remain unrecognizable a year after much of the community was covered in water. Some roads and a key bridge are still waiting to be repaired.

“At this time, it depends on funding permits from the provincial government,” said Sean Strang, flood recovery manager for Merritt.

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While a number of Merritt residents remain forced from their homes, the town’s biggest concern is to ensure it is protected in the future.

A plan to improve levees and buy out landowners to create a larger flood channel is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars.

« We just don’t see funding for it, that it would progress very quickly, » he said. « We’re probably in there for four to six years before we’re fully protected, if we can find federal funding to do that. »

Strang said the temporary levees installed last November would provide some protection, but were unlikely to withstand an event of the same magnitude.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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