Coquihalla Highway could reopen by late January

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For the first time since last week's devastating storm destroyed several sections of the Coquihalla Highway between Hope and Merritt, B.C., the provincial government has issued a tentative timeline for when the route might reopen.

B.C. Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming said during a news conference Thursday that - if all goes according to plan - the province hopes to complete "temporary repairs" to allow Highway 5 to reopen by late January.

Fleming said the province is "reasonably optimistic" that enough repairs can be completed to allow commercial traffic on the highway in about two months' time.

"I do have to caution that the weather will be a factor and a key consideration in determining whether we can reach that target," the minister said.

"When we do open up, obviously, like other highways that have been impacted, it won't be business as usual on the Coquihalla," he added. "There will be two segments, each 20-to-30 kilometres in length, where the highway will have to have reduced speeds and only one lane in each direction will be possible."

Fleming said "about 20 sites" along the highway were damaged or washed away along a 130-kilometre corridor.

"This is going to be a daunting task to get that highway back to being fully operational, but I'm pleased to report that the work has begun," he said. "Right now, we have around 100 pieces of equipment working around the clock to restore temporary access as fast as possible."

The minister thanked work crews and contractors for their efforts on Highway 5 and other highways around the province.

"We've never seen anything like this in B.C. in terms of how many highways have been impacted all at once," he said. "We have 200 sites across the South Coast and Interior that were impacted. Some of these highways are vital for the movement of essential goods, but all of them are vital for the people who live and travel in these areas."

Highway 5, also known as the Coquihalla Highway, is the fastest and most-travelled vehicle route between B.C.'s Fraser Valley and the Interior cities of Kelowna and Kamloops.

Other highways between the Lower Mainland and the Interior, including Highway 1, Highway 3 and Highway 99, were also closed by landslides during the deadly storm. Highway 3 and Highway 99 have since reopened, with travel restrictions, and portions of Highway 1 have also reopened, though that route does not yet connect the Interior to the Lower Mainland. 

- with files from CTV -