Residents on and around the Highway 8 corridor between Spences Bridge and Merritt had an opportunity to take an in-depth look at reconstruction work on the highway and ask questions of Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure staff at public meetings on June 22 and 23.
The Highway 8 Reinstatement Open Houses featured large storyboards with an overview of the extensive damage caused by the atmospheric river that hit the area in November 2021. Twenty-five sites along the 69-kilometre highway were impacted, with the most concentrated and severe damage at the west end of the corridor near Spences Bridge.
Crews have been working simultaneously at both ends of the highway to complete emergency access connections, and more than 90 per cent of the residents along the corridor have been able to return home. Work has been completed, or is underway, at 20 of the sites, with five sites in the centre of the damaged area awaiting work.
“We’re aiming to get everyone home by late summer, and open the highway in some semblance of what it was to the public by late fall,” says Shawn Clough, the Highway 8 Corridor Director. He adds, however, that it won’t look like the “old” Highway 8.
“There will be gravel sections, and yield to oncoming traffic sections. We’ll be putting together a very comprehensive traffic management plan to keep people safe. We don’t want anyone hurt, but we need to get the highway open, so there will be lots of signs to alert people about what to expect, and numerous other safety features to keep motorists safe.”
The reinstatement program is currently in Phase 1, with crews working to repair the damage to the 45 kilometres of highway that were impacted. Seven kilometres of two-lane highway were completely destroyed, as were three kilometres of one-lane highway. Three bridges along the route were heavily damaged.
Tonnes of rock fill and riprap have been deployed along the highway, to rebuild sections and protect the infrastructure.
“It wasn’t there before,” says Clough, noting that 47,000 truckloads of rock have been brought in on the Merritt side alone. They stopped counting the truckloads on the Spences Bridge side, he adds.
“We’ve riprapped the entire portion of where the highway was restored. The highway was built on bedrock, and the banks were open and the water carved it out. Riprap is much harder than the soft volcanic soil, and when it’s engineered correctly it’s much harder for water to move it.”
Because of the difficult geography of the area — which includes 300-foot vertical silt bluffs above where the road was in some places — the highway has had to be realigned in some spots utilizing the former Kettle Valley Railway bed, and additional temporary bridges have been built. The ministry has been collaborating with local First Nations communities and archaeologists to assess the damaged sites to ensure that reinstatement takes into consideration the cultural history of the area.
The work has also been carried out with an eye to protecting the environment. More than 3,500 fish that were trapped along the corridor were relocated to safer areas; boulder clusters and rock groynes have been installed at various sites to improve fish habitats and provide areas of refuge; and crews have been surveying for bats and reptiles before developing quarries, blasting rocks, or repairing the highway, to ensure that wildlife habitats are not impacted by the construction.
“We’re in response mode right now,” says Clough, explaining that this will continue until the highway is open to the public. Paving will be starting at sites one, two, and three at the Merritt end over the next month.
Phase 2 will be recovery mode, and assessments are underway to prioritize the risks that will be faced during this phase. Phase 3 will be long-term planning for Highway 8, to improve the overall resiliency of the highway.
“Our mandate right now is to get the highway open and get people home,” says Clough. “Then there are some really big questions that will have to be addressed.”
The ministry is providing regular updates about the work along Highway 8. For the latest information, go to www.gov.bc.ca/highway8recovery, where you can also sign up to receive a regular Highway 8 newsletter.