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BEPPLE – Coquihalla Highway can’t escape its past

Coquihalla in winter. (Image: Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure file photo)

WHEN THE COQUIHALLA Highway was opened in 1986, it followed the mountainous route of the doomed Kettle Valley Railway from Coldwater to Hope. And just as the KVR struggled to operate in winter due to washouts, snowfalls and rockfalls, keeping the Coquihalla Highway operating, especially in winter, is a huge challenge.

In the end, the KVR could not be operated profitably and the line from Coldwater to Hope was closed in 1959.

The challenges of the KVR are the challenges of the Coquihalla. Mountain weather makes maintenance of the highway difficult and driving it equally arduous.

Despite massive washouts from the 2021 atmospheric river, and ongoing closures from winter storms, there is no talk of abandoning the Coquihalla Highway now. When weather is fine, the highway is a great way to travel.

But when weather is foul, and options are limited, Highway 1, from Hope to Cache Creek, then on to Kamloops, at much lower elevations, is often the better choice.

Ministry of Transportation does an outstanding job of keeping the Coquihalla open as much as possible.

But when the Coquihalla Highway is closed, the importance of the Highway 1 route is evident. The last few years have shown how vulnerable the supply chain between Vancouver and Kamloops and the Interior is. Maybe it’s time to put more time and money into to old routes like Highway 1.

Highway 1 from Hope to Kamloops is at a far lower elevation and is often bare and dry while the Coquihalla is being hit by nasty winter weather. It is already an option when the Coquihalla is closed. But it is single lane and windy for much of the way from Hope to Cache Creek.

Ministry of Transportation will argue that the Highway 1 route has been upgraded over the years. But the winding single lane highway snaking along the Fraser and Thompson Rivers is still pretty much as I remember it was back in 1986 when the Coquihalla took over as the major route to the Interior.

What about upgrading Highway 1 so that it is a better option not just in winter but no matter what the weather? Why not take some of the money used to keep the Coquihalla operating and improve the Highway 1 option instead?

British Columbia is full of mountainous highways that are difficult to build and maintain, and often arduous to drive. The Coquihalla will always be a mountainous highway with treacherous weather. We can’t escape geography.

But where there are lower level options like Highway 1 from Hope to Cache Creek, it would be great to have a better option, an easier choice for driving.

This week’s terrible bus accident was on a different stretch of mountain highway, the Okanagan Connector from Merritt to Kelowna.

Building highways through mountainous terrain has challenges. Sometimes there is no other option but to go over mountain passes. But whenever there are options at lower elevations, like Highway 1 through the Fraser Canyon, we should think about improving them. Mountains and mountain weather won’t change.

Deep sympathy to those who lost family and friends in this week’s bus accident, and wishing full recovery to those who survived. Thanks to the first responders and individuals who assisted at the accident and on the hospitals who helped those in need of help.

Nancy Bepple is a Kamloops City councillor with a strong interest in community building projects.

About Mel Rothenburger (9358 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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