Keeping dream alive for a new highway from Kitimat

Two Kitimat residents are still fanning the flames to get a new highway built from Kitimat, perhaps hitched to proposed pipelines.

Ron Burnett and Vic Maskulak still believe a new highway can be built from Kitimat east, to Houston and Burns Lake.

The pair even presented the plan to the Joint Review panel in 2010, the group reviewing the proposed Northern Gateway pipelines.

The two introduced themselves as members of the Kitimat Harbour Group, and their reason for bringing it to the JRP is that they felt that Enbridge’s pipeline proposal was the missing puzzle piece in putting together stronger transportation infrastructure, including the new highway, which would run from Kitimat to Houston.

“Due to the difficult terrain there is only one opportunity to locate a two-lane highway through the Coast Mountains in this area, therefore the pipelines must share this right-of-way portions of it,” Burnett told the JRP in 2010.

Today, the two still hold on to hope that the highway will see the light of day.

And for them, it’s really only a question of when, not if.

“We are confident it will happen one day,” said Burnett. “Just like the Coquihalla. Some pundits thought the Coquihalla would be a drain on the economy, it was going to kill Cache Creek.”

Getting the road built, however, will require partnerships between the companies and the governments, but as more people turn their attention to Kitimat, he thinks the argument will further solidify.

“There’s no question. You can’t argue about the 140, 160 kilometres [saved], that’s simple geography. As the area grows, other people are going to recognize it, so our intention at the moment is to keep it out in the public eye, keep people talking about it.”

That savings in distance he’s referring to is the approximately 142 km saved per direction between Kitimat and Houston if a new connector highway is built, versus the 327 km the route takes now on existing highways.

When the idea first began bubbling in the late 1980s and from then on there was opposition. The communities of Smithers and Hazelton, said Burnett, weren’t on board, fearing the road would destroy their tourism economy.

But even that’s changed now. Burnett said a meeting at the Chamber of Commerce in Kitimat a number of years back had representatives from those communities, and the opinion shifted.

“At the end of the meeting they all agreed to support it,” he said, adding, “A circle route would create more tourism within the area but it would also attract tourists looking to do some sort of scenic tour.”

There are economic bonuses to the idea as well.

Burnett said that it’d benefit the Huckleberry Mine, which sends materials back to Houston before going up to Stewart. This would save them that distance.

And of course the savings in fuel in transportation on a connector, rather than the long route on Highway 16.

Even the existence of an all-weather road would mean better access and monitoring to proposed pipelines.

When the two were in front of the JRP, they argued that one of the holdbacks to Kitimat getting a publicly accessible bulk port was the transportation infrastructure which means Kitimat wasn’t sufficiently “economically accessible.”

We sought comment from the Ministry of Transportation and Enbridge but have we have not yet had a response from either.