What to do with Haisla Bridge

What to do with Haisla Bridge

Kitimat’s transportation infrastructure key piece of economic development

A transportation study for the Kitimat area is underway, and will complement the government's own 10-year plan.

The B.C. government has revealed a 10-year plan for work to repair or upgrade the province’s transportation network.

As a community Kitimat was specifically mentioned in the government’s report, however no specific project was named for the community.

Among the mentions of Kitimat were to “Facilitate Port of Kitimat development with port structure and governance models that support economic activity.”

Further in the 60 page report includes a commitment by the government  to “continue to work with First Nations, local and federal governments, ports and industry on land use planning, access and infrastructure needs for proposed LNG facilities throughout the province.”

The report continued, “The Province will be ready to upgrade provincial infrastructure as needed to support LNG.

The report does specify one project for neighbouring Terrace to resurface the Sande Overpass bridge deck.

In Kitimat there’s no such specific plan, but locals are sure to know which project would be best if the government wants to support and LNG industry: Haisla Bridge.

Kitimat’s only road access to the service and industrial centres of town has often been held up as a necessary bit of infrastructure that the District has sought provincial help in maintaining.

What to do with the bridge, and what needs to be done for the entire roadway from Highway 16 in Terrace to the end of Bish Forest Service Road  in Kitimat, is the focus of an ongoing study right now, commissioned by B.C. and being funded by area industries, said Kitimat Chief Administrative Officer Ron Poole.

The $1.6 million study, he said, will likely be finished in the late spring.

That study is looking at four sections of the highway from Terrace to Kitimat. The first is from Highway 16 to Kitamaat Village Road, then from there to Rio Tinto Alcan, and then from Bish FSR to the Chevron site.

“What’s probably of most interest in our section is the condition of the bridge and whether it should be upgraded or replaced,” said Poole. “We don’t know what that answer is. If you asked us five, 10 years ago we would have said it just needs a paint job and some upgrading. But at that time we were not anticipating heavy industrial growth either and that the bridge would be impacted a lot different than just a general community needing their bridge renovated.”

The bridge has already been known to slow down work in the sense that trucks en route to the industrial sites have had to turn around because they exceeded the weight restrictions on Haisla Bridge.

It’s not even just economic development that’s the problem though. After a recent earthquake near Haida Gwaii, which came with a tsunami warning for the coastal area, the District realized they’d have evacuation challenges during major disaster events if they happen.

Namely, at a potential construction peak there could be more people living on the industrial side of the town in camps than in the town itself.

“How do you get 10,000 people across the bridge in an hour or two?”

Answers to those questions are what he hopes to see in recommendations from the forthcoming study.

“We would hope that the province takes those recommendations seriously and does something about it so that it doesn’t delay these [final investment decisions].”

It’s not just the bridge that’s in need. Merge lanes are also being studied, said Poole, including at Cable Car and at the landfill and cemetery. Improving sight lines at the Kitamaat Village Road and Haisla Boulevard is also on the table.

The District of Kitimat is also making a strong push to have the province take control of Kitimat’s portion of Haisla Boulevard, which runs through the town until the railroad crossing near RTA.

Having the province take that on means they’d own, maintain and fund it.

“We feel now with the development of industry on the other end that this is becoming more of a major highway than a road going through a community,” said Poole.