How to get around southern BC: a post-crisis highway primer

There are two routes connecting the Fraser Valley to the Lower Mainland, but only Highway 3 is open to traffic heading to the Interior

By Grace Kennedy | December 3, 2021 |4:07 pm

Note: this story was last updated Tuesday, Dec. 7, at 430pm.

British Columbia is a province that relies on its railways, highways and pipelines to connect inter-related communities connected over long distances. In mid-November, that delicate system came crashing down during the first of four storms to hit the Fraser Valley.

Today, the highway system is still in pieces. Although some key routes have been opened to allow traffic to flow through the province, other routes could take months to bring back online. This is how the province’s highways look as of today.

Road conditions can change at any time. Check DriveBC’s website for the most up to date information on highway closures.

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In the Fraser Valley

The four atmospheric rivers that caused such destruction across the valley also showed just how connected our communities are. After the first storm on Nov. 14, Hope was entirely isolated from both the Lower Mainland and the Interior. Agassiz and Chilliwack were connected by the Agassiz Rosedale Bridge, but themselves isolated from both Mission and Chilliwack due to landslides and flooding.

Further road closures made travel within Abbotsford more challenging, as Highway 11 closed in town because the road buckled.

Once essential travel was allowed on Highway 7, the communities were reconnected, although challenges remained. Teachers spent hours bussing to school districts they didn’t live in, and crashes on the vital route created significant problems.

Today, the Fraser Valley is connected once again, although much still needs to be done to get the highways back to their pre-flood and landslide state.

Highway 1: Open

The Canadian military, Abbotsford police, Ministry of Transportation, and others are working to build a ‘Tiger Dam’ on Highway 1 on Nov. 28. 📸 Ministry of Transportation/Twitter

Despite flooding from Sumas Lake, landslides in Popkum, and the construction of a Tiger Dam across Sumas Bridge, Highway 1 is open for business.

The vital connection between Abbotsford and Hope had left eastern Fraser Valley residents stranded when the Popkum to Hope corridor closed due to landslides during the first storm. Subsequent flooding from the Nooksack River forced the closure of the Abbotsford Chilliwack connection shortly after. Although it was able to open to essential agricultural traffic, and briefly for non-essential commuter traffic, the road was closed again during the final set of storms.

Today, Highway 1 is fully open all the way from Vancouver to Hope.

Highway 7: Open

Cars lining up to travel east on Highway 7 near Hatzic. The road has been open since Nov. 17, and restricted to essential travel since Nov. 19. 📸 Submitted

After landslides closed Highway 7 between Mission and Hope, and stranded hundreds of people overnight, the route is now open for essential travel through the Fraser Valley.

Highway 7 east of Agassiz had been cut off from Hope by two landslides, resulting in 300 people and several pets who had to be rescued by helicopter from that section of road. The highway over Mt. Woodside west of Agassiz also closed due to a landslide, but was one of the first routes to reopen during the early days of the crisis.

The route was switched to essential travel only after the first few days of being open, but is now open to all travellers as of Monday night. People can now use Highway 7 for commuting to work, driving kids to school, and attending appointments.

Highway 11: Open in Abbotsford

Highway 11 remains closed along Matsqui Prairie
Highway 11 remains closed along Matsqui Prairie. The province does not know yet when it might re-open. 📷 Abbotsford Police Department

Despite concerns that the main inter-community highway between Abbotsford and Mission would be out of commission for some time, DriveBC announced the highway was open for traffic as of Monday morning.

The road was damaged during the first storm, and continued flooding had made it impossible for the province to determine exactly what repairs are needed, according to an email from a spokesperson with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. The closure of the stretch of highway meant travellers between Abbotsford and Mission had to detour through farm roads on Matsqui Prairie.

The road is now open to passenger, municipal, and emergency vehicles only, and is down to one lane in either direction. All traffic will be using southbound lanes, as the northbound lanes are still damaged. Drivers should use caution on the route and expect delays.

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Leaving the Fraser Valley

What was largely a localized storm caused major disruptions for people across the province. The first atmospheric river, which touched down on Nov. 14, caused road closures for every route leaving the Lower Mainland. The impacts affected truck drivers, farmers, and ordinary folks just trying to get home.

Highway 99—which was not impacted by landslides on Nov. 14 the same way the Coquihalla, Hope-Princeton, and TransCanada were, and remained open as the one route into and out of the Lower Mainland—ultimately caused the most heartbreak when five people were caught in a landslide on Nov. 15 and died.

Today, there is only one route available for commercial trucks, and it looks like it will stay that way for quite some time, thanks to aggressive washouts that have destroyed entire sections on multiple highways.

Highway 3: Only open for essential travel

Crew working to repair a portion of Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton on Nov.17. 📸 Ministry of Transportation/Flickr

Highway 3 is currently the only route open between the Lower Mainland and the rest of the province. Since it reopened, it has seen 10,000 commercial trucks drive over it, carrying goods into and out of the valley. At Princeton, drivers can head north toward Merritt, Kamloops, and Highway 1, or continue on east toward Princeton and the Kootenays.

But non-essential travel is currently prohibited, and the province doesn’t expect it to change anytime soon. On Monday, Rob Fleming, the province’s Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, said the travel restrictions are essential to allow trucks to use the route. Asked if restrictions might be removed, or even eased before Christmas, Fleming suggested that was unlikely in the weeks to come.

Highway 3 suffered a number of landslides over the four November storms; the first closure was the longest, as it shut down the route for five days. The following landslides, as well as vehicle incidents, had significantly shorter impacts, although still significant.

The route is the only route for truck traffic out of or into the Lower Mainland, and is open to essential travel only. Details on what constitutes essential travel can be found on the Ministry of Transportation’s website.

Highway 5: Indefinitely closed to Merritt

A portion of the Coquihalla Highway at the Caroline Mine interchange has been completely washed away. 📸 Ministry of Transportation/Flickr

Massive washouts and a total destruction of the highway at several spots between Merritt and Hope have made sure the Coquihalla Highway won’t be reopening again any time soon.

One of the locations with significant damage is the area near Othello Road, which saw a portion of the highway washed away, along with several houses on Othello Road.

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said he expected the route could potentially be opened in the New Year. On Dec. 6, he suggested an opening in late January was possible. Officials are working on establishing temporary road structures to fix parts of the road, but the province is still planning (and costing) what the final repairs might look like.

Highway 1: Closed

Equipment is currently tackling the damage at Tank Hill, where a landslide took out both the railway and the highway that passed underneath it. 📸 Ministry of Transportation/Flickr

Is an important transportation corridor for many Indigenous communities in the Fraser Canyon, and the route has been opened and closed in many different stretches during the November storms.

There are two major sections that crews have been working to rebuild. At Tank Hill, between Lytton and Spences Bridge, a landslide took out the rail line and the highway underpass in the same section. That area is still being repaired.

And south of Lytton, at Jackass Mountain, a major slide left a gaping chasm in the highway that has proven challenging for construction crews to fix. The two slides cut off the main access routes between Lytton  and the Fraser Valley and the Lower Mainland, where many evacuees remain. The only route out of the community is north to Lillooet.

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming suggested on Dec. 6 that the highway could re-open in January.

Currently, the highway is open between Hope and Boothroyd, allowing people in Yale and Boston Bar to travel to Hope if needed, but remains closed between Boothroyd and Spences Bridge.

Highway 99: Re-opened

A mudslide on the Duffey Lake Road portion of Highway 99, just south of Lillooet. 📸 Ministry of Transportation/Flickr

Highway 99 has been the deadliest highway during the November storms, killing five people in a landslide on Nov. 15.

A mountainous stretch of highway between Pemberton and Lillooet had been the last to close during the storms, and experienced its deadly landslide after all other routes into the Lower Mainland were shut down by washouts, landslides, and flooding. It was reopened once four of the five victims were recovered from the debris, five days later. At that point, it become open to essential travel only for small vehicles.

It was again the last highway out of the valley to close when the province opted to shut down the roads as a precaution during the final two storms.  Several hours after it was reopened, it experienced another landslide. The route re-opened Saturday to essential travel, but truck traffic is prohibited from the narrow and twisty route.

More of our in-depth coverage of the 2021 Fraser Valley floods:

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Grace Kennedy

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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