Traffic was stopped along Highway 16 on Dec. 23, 2021 between Prince Rupert and Terrace for crews to clear snow blockages along the main travel route. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

Traffic was stopped along Highway 16 on Dec. 23, 2021 between Prince Rupert and Terrace for crews to clear snow blockages along the main travel route. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

North Coast worries about highway safety and reliability as winter approaches

It’s this region’s umbilical cord to important services — Mayor Knut Bjorndal

Highway 16 reliability and safety is a concern for North Coast Regional District (NCRD) and they are letting the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) know with a letter request to talk about the problems.

“We need urgency,” Knut Bjorndal, mayor of Port Edward, told The Northern View, on Dec. 1.

Bjorndal said the problems started last winter in December 2021.

“The highway was in terrible condition after some snowfalls, freezing, thawing and the surface of the highway was very slippery. It took them a long time to come out and sand them. Also the roads were not scraped well down to pavement, leaving them very icy,” he said.

The NCRD passed a motion during their regular meeting on Nov. 18 to send the letter to Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

“But we’re starting to get other problems now,”Bjorndal said.

Twice in less than a month, a rock slide closed off Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Terrace. The slides on Oct. 22 and Nov. 6 severed North Coast residents’ only land access to the rest of the province.

After numerous letters last year and out of concern for residents’ safety, the District of Port Edward wrote to the B.C. Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Rob Fleming, on Oct. 28 asking for the government to give Highway 16 “the attention it deserves”.

The NCRD is reaching out to MTO to make sure the work under road maintenance contracts is taking place to keep residents safe as they travel on the highway, Daniel Fish, the chief administrative officer at NCRD said.

“There’s only one way out of Prince Rupert and that’s Highway 16. There’s no other way, if I can use medical terminology, it’s this region’s umbilical cord to important services,” Bjorndal said.

It is also the only route for North Coast communities to get important goods like food and medical supplies and a route for industries that use the ports along the coast.

At some sections of Highway 16, the CN rail line gets very close to the road and a rock slide could just as easily land on the tracks or a train car, Bjorndal said.

“We are relieved that no one was hurt in [the rock slide] incident, and also concerned that additional and ongoing maintenance to prevent foreseeable rock fall needs to be undertaken on a regular basis,” the letter from Port Edward stated.

O’Brien Road and Bridge Maintenance is responsible for highway maintenance on Haida Gwaii and along the road from Prince Rupert more than 50 kilometres towards Terrace where service is taken over by Emil Anderson Maintenance.

Knut was hopeful that a letter from the regional district will help give the issue more weight. The mayor will also be approaching North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice to have a conversation about the subject.