June 18, 2017 4:28 pm

Long-awaited bus service along B.C. ‘Highway of Tears’ prepares for launch

WATCH: A long-awaited bus service finally begins on Monday, when BC Transit begins picking up passengers along the infamous Highway 16. Kristen Robinson reports.

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Mary Teegee has spent over two decades wondering how things could have ended up differently for her cousin if she’d had access to safe transit.

In 1994, Ramona Wilson went missing while hitchhiking near the central B.C. town of Smithers. Ten months later, her body was found, adding her name to the list of 18 women since 1969 who have been killed or went missing along that same stretch of Highway 16 from Prince Rupert to Prince George — commonly referred to as the “Highway of Tears.”

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To this day, Wilson’s family is far from solving her murder, but Teegee says they’re not the only ones left with a lack of closure.

“We’d definitely still like to find out what happened,” she says, “but we can’t forget the other families where they haven’t found the remains of their loved ones. There’s still a threat out there, and we can’t forget that.”

A long-called-for transit service will hopefully bring an end to that era of death and sadness. BC Transit has announced two new bus routes that will connect Smithers to Prince George will begin service on Monday, using Burns Lake as a central hub.

The service comes 11 years after the Highway of Tears Symposium Recommendations Report, a list of 33 recommendations for improving safety along the highway and for the First Nations communities it passes through. The provincial government announced last year it was committing $6.4 million over three years to a Highway 16 transportation plan, which will eventually see bus service extend throughout the 750-kilometre highway.

READ MORE: B.C. announces bus service for Highway of Tears

“The next service, we hope to connect a little bit more on the northwest side of things,” Kevin Schubert, BC Transit’s director of regional transit systems said. “I think the next piece is just really seeing how the service is received.”

The first phase of the transit plan, a bus line connecting Smithers to Moricetown, opened in January. BC Transit says that service has seen daily use by passengers.

For Teegee, the service is a welcome announcement that she hopes will bring more safety and security to families in the community.

“It’s a personal victory for our family, as well as for everybody else,” she said. “If we could prevent even one young girl’s life [from being taken], it’s worth the fight and worth the struggle to get to this day.”

But she adds that the fight for more modern services and a safer community is far from being won.

“There’s a lot of other recommendations [in the report] that really need to be looked into and funded, as [the previous] government has committed to,” Teegee said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done around victims support, a relationship with the RCMP, and I think there’s still [a need for] boots-on-the-ground emergency preparedness — all of those pieces of work that cannot be overlooked.

“It’s taken 11 years for us to get here, so how many years more is it going to take?”

With files from Kristen Robinson

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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