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Updated: Coquihalla Highway to reopen next week

Highway 5 will reopen to commercial traffic and buses
Work continues to restore damaged highway stretches on Highway 5 following widespread damage from flooding in November | Photo: B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure / Flickr

After the Coquihalla Highway was significantly damaged during historic rains just one month ago, the highway is expected to reopen to commercial traffic and buses by Dec. 20. Additionally, the essential travel restrictions on Highway 3 will also be lifted next week.

Minister of Transportation Rob Fleming made the announcements during Wednesday's press conference, calling the repairs of the Coquihalla one of the most remarkable feats of engineering in the province's history.

Twenty separate sections of the highway were completely destroyed during November's storm, and damage included seven washed out bridges and five debris flows across the road.

Fleming did not provide any estimate of when Highway 5 may reopen to other non-essential travellers, but said the essential travel restrictions on Highway 3 east of Hope will be lifted Dec. 21. Additionally, the essential travel restriction on Highway 99 north of Pemberton will also be lifted when the Coquihalla reopens.

The Ministry of Transportation's Paula Cousins said truckers should expect travel between Hope and Merritt to take about 45 minutes longer than usual during optimal weather conditions, and more permanent repairs will continue while commercial vehicles use the road.

Fleming said the total cost of the massive repairs remain unknown, but he said the government is not sparing any expenses.

Cousins said more than 300 crew members have been working around the clock on the Coquihalla over the past 31 days, using more than 200 pieces of heavy equipment to move more than 400,000 cubic metres of fill and more than 130,000 cubic metres of rock have been blasted.

Despite work continuing through the winter months, Cousins said the weather has generally been cooperative during the rebuilding phase, and there has been no safety incidents during the rebuilding of the road.

Fleming said he expects the vast majority of commercial traffic will use the Coquihalla when it reopens next week, reducing volume on Highway 3. But he said travellers should "think very carefully" about using a steep and windy road like Highway 3 before travelling for the holidays