As British Columbians make plans to visit friends and family over the holidays, the provincial government is advising people not to expect Highway 3 to reopen to non-essential travel.
Transportation Minister Rob Fleming was asked multiple times during a news conference on Monday whether to expect a change for the major route through southern B.C. that was heavily damaged by the recent flooding and landslides.
The province will continue to update the public, but the highway remains open to essential vehicles only for now, he said, as substantial long-term repairs continue.
“On Highway 3 right now, we really need this. It’s our lone corridor that links the Lower Mainland and the interior of the province. It’s crucial to our supply chain,” Fleming said.
“About 10,000 trucks, between that route and the transit route we have negotiated with the state of Washington, are both very important, but Highway 3 is by far more significant.”
Essential travel includes commercial vehicles, as well as people who may have been stranded by storms and are trying to return to their primary address.
Mounties continue to patrol Highway 3, and anyone not obeying the essential travel restrictions could be told to turn around.
“Right now, it would not be very pleasant to get in your car and drive to a ski hill from the Lower Mainland to the Interior. There are a lot of trucks there, it’s a very busy corridor, it’s slow and winding. It takes approximately twice as long to get from Surrey to Keremeos right now,” Fleming said.
“I cannot give a date about when that may be reopened to general travel. A lot of this is tied to progress we’re trying to make on Highway 5. But we will update the public.”
Highway 5, the Coquihalla Highway, is the other main corridor to the Interior. It was so badly damaged in the storms that officials don’t expect it to reopen until the end of January at the earliest, and even then, only to commercial vehicles.
Meanwhile, the province is working with the airline industry to add flights between Abbotsford, Vancouver and Victoria and destinations in the Interior.
“The airline industry is obviously interested in seeing what kind of additional regional and holiday service they can provide, so we’ll keep updating on what the industry is doing,” Fleming said.