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Highway 1 through Fraser Canyon expected to reopen in January

There are seven distinct areas of damage along the Fraser Canyon
EmilyNorton/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Highway 1 through the Fraser Canyon is not expected to reopen until at least mid-January, while the government has no estimate of when the heavily damaged Highway 8 west of Merritt may reopen.

Thursday, Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said the Coquihalla isn't expected to reopen for commercial traffic until the end of January, and he provided an estimate for the reopening of another link between B.C.'s coast and the Interior on Friday.

“We believe we can have temporary repairs in place to allow traffic to be moving through this area by mid-January,” Fleming said. “It will be very restricted traffic flow with some single-lane sections.”

While he announced Friday that the Coquihalla would only open to commercial traffic initially, he did not specify if the Fraser Canyon would open to passenger vehicles come January.

There are seven distinct areas of damage along the Fraser Canyon and there are currently 50 pieces of heavy equipment working along the highways.

Highway 99 north of Pemberton and Highway 3 east of Hope were previously reopened this past week, but Highway 3 was closed west of Princeton Friday due to a serious crash. Since the highway reopened, about 4,000 commercial trucks have passed through it.

Fleming said Highway 8 between Merritt and Spence Bridges is “largely destroyed,” with five to six kilometres of it completely washed away by the Nicola River.

“The Nicola River has literally carved a new path, washing away large sections of the highway in the process,” Fleming said.

“Permanent rebuilds of Highways 1 and 8 and the Coquihalla will take a long time, there's no question about it, but the planning has already started.”

The province has reached out to construction companies and engineering and design firms with “requests for qualifications,” to seek out new innovations to “rebuild better than it was.”

“Our infrastructure will be rebuilt to withstand the new climate realities that we find ourselves in,” Fleming said.

While crews work across southwest B.C. to repair damage from last week's massive storm, two more storms are en route to the province's coast.

After 50-90 mm of rain fell across areas of the south coast over the past couple days, Dave Campbell of the River Forecast Centre says two more “atmospheric river” events are coming – the first hitting Saturday afternoon into Sunday and the second on Tuesday. Next week's storm is expected to hit the hardest.

“It's looking to have a fair bit of potential when it comes to severity of rainfall amounts,” said Campbell. “At this point there's still a fair bit of uncertainty of where that system will make landfall on the Tuesday, but it's certainly looking like it's got the potential for a fairly decent storm cycle.”

Fleming said crews are in place on B.C. highways in anticipation of the coming storms, and highways that have recently reopened may have to close again. He urged British Columbians who don't need to travel during these storm events to stay home.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is touring the devastation in the Lower Mainland Friday, before meeting with Premier John Horgan later in the day. The two are scheduled to hold a press conference at 5:30 p.m.