The current roads situation in the Northwest, with Terrace all but isolated by road access, has the areas local politicians discussing a number of options for future consideration.
From a new highway corridor east of Terrace to upgrades to the Cranberry connector the discussions are beginning for a fall back plan for future times.
Massive slide re-ignites bypass debate
By Thom Barker
The Interior News
Jun 06 2007
A massive landslide on Hwy 16 early on May 28 closed the only artery between Terrace and points east for more than a week.
Initially, Ministry of Transportation officials predicted a Wednesday reopening, but as the week progressed it became apparent the debris field remained unstable.
By Friday, officials had scheduled single-lane alternating traffic during limited windows and remained so as of Monday with Drive B.C. reporting that would be the case “until further notice.”
The slide, measuring some 66 metres wide by up to 10 metres high, raised concerns — especially with the impending increase in traffic related to the new container port in Prince Rupert — of having only a single thoroughfare linking northwestern communities.
While transportation companies quickly diverted to the Cranberry Forest Service Road, an active, single lane, gravel logging road that winds through the Nass Valley, also known as the Cranberry Connector, others were left with little option but to wait.
“Extended road closures take a real bite out of our northern economy and they impact people’s ability to access medical care and a whole bunch of other services,” said Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen.
Cullen said he plans to get together stakeholders, including federal and provincial governments, the Prince Rupert Port Authority and transportation companies in the fall to discuss road infrastructure that could see a more direct route to the coast from around the Houston area west.
Of course, that suggestion is bound to be extremely controversial for towns like Smithers and New Hazelton, which depend on the through traffic.
Cullen said he recognizes that danger, but felt there is a strong case for creating an alternative route.
“Certainly there is no risk in opening up debate,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cullen’s counterparts in the provincial NDP, immediately called for upgrades to the Cranberry.
“It is unacceptable that the Province doesn’t see the necessity of another route into these communities,” said Gary Coons, MLA for the North Coast.
“The Cranberry Connector is the logical upgrade,” he said. “There are thousands of British Columbians that are impacted when Highway 16 is shut down. There are issues of safety to consider, as well as issues of restricting goods and services to those communities for days at a time.”
But Kevin Falcon, minister of transportation, said that just isn’t going to happen.
“It would be extraordinarily expensive, probably in the $50 million range, just to provide a graveled, two-lane road,” Falcon said.
“We did a business case analysis in 2004, and there is just no justification for the dollars that would need to be spent, especially given that it would have very, very low volume of traffic.”
And, for the most part, northerners took the closure in stride.
Mark Karjaluoto, a spokesperson for Northern Health, confirmed the slide curtailed their Northern Connections service west of Hazelton, but the alternative route was not an option for their patients.
Cranberry junction is very much a “drive at your own risk” route, so we don’t want to take any chances of running loaded buses through there,” he said.
“We realize it’s an inconvenience to some passengers.”