Highway 1 in B.C.'s Fraser Valley reopens earlier than initially expected

A major highway through Abbotsford, B.C., that has been severely impacted by flooding reopened Thursday afternoon.

Minister of Transportation Rob Fleming announced the reopening during an afternoon briefing on the latest flood conditions and recovery efforts across the province. The highway reopened at 2 p.m., which was hours earlier than originally estimated by the transportation ministry.

"We've had geotechnical engineers confirm that the road is safe for travel," Fleming said. "This will provide a lot of welcome congestion relief and mobility for the region."

Fleming said even though this is good news, it won't be "travel as normal."

"Rather it will be slow-going with reduced speed limits," he said, adding that it will not be subject to a travel order.

"But we are asking people to consider whether their travel is absolutely necessary."

As well, commercial vehicles over 64,500 kilograms are prohibited from travelling on the road.

Wind and rainfall warnings blanket most of B.C.'s southern coast and come after about a dozen so-called atmospheric rivers have saturated land in the province since September.

Photos posted by the transportation ministry around 2 p.m. showed deep water still surrounding the highway at some points.

Fleming said teams are watching the forecast closely.

"We hope and expect that Highway 1 will be able to remain open, but we will be constantly monitoring its performance and if necessary we may have to close the highway again because safety is always our first priority," he said.

Some major highway routes in and out of B.C.'s Lower Mainland remain closed while others have opened to essential travel only. But reopening Highway 1 may help to reduce congestion on other routes, like Highway 7, Fleming said.

Even so, travel restrictions will remain in place on Highway 7 for now.