BC is on the move with $1.8 billion set aside to repair and grow the province’s vast network of roads, highways, bridges and airports over the next three years.
The question is, will Greater Trail be on or off the beaten path as the province fires up plans to improve safety, maintain and replace aging infrastructure and support global supply chains between North America and Asia.
According to the Minister of Transport, there’s improvements on the way for the area’s side roads and secondary highways, grant money available for the Trail airport, and maybe a few dollars for the Victoria Street bridge.
“West Kootenay folks can look forward to a good number of improvements that will take many different forms,” Todd Stone told the Trail Times last week. “When we look at corridors like Highway 3A and Highway 3B and the huge network of rural roads that are really important in rural B.C. these secondary rural roads are in need of attention.”
He said there is about $400 million earmarked from the $890 million rehabilitation budget for work on highways and secondary roads in the region.
The ministry is in the process of prioritizing projects and details will be forthcoming, he added.
“But I can assure residents of the Kootenays (West and East), there are probably more side roads and secondary highways that are in need of upgrades than almost anywhere else in the province,” Stone continued. “So there will be tremendous focus and work done on the roads over the next three years.”
The province has also committed to a provincial trucking strategy that includes upgrading bridges and overpasses to accomodate heavier loads.
“We figure we’ll be able to upgrade or replace 30 structures,” said Stone, noting that funds are not for tearing down old structures, like the old bridge, which is city property. “We profiled a few bridges in our plan and we will be getting on with details soon.”
The B.C. on the Move plan includes community input from stakeholders across the province, including local governments, chambers of commerce, port and airport authorities and responses from a public survey.
The ministry hosted a stakeholder meeting in Trail last fall, and heard five key points from participants.
The transportation of goods via road and rail from Washington, U.S.A., throughout the region was highlighted as an important passageway, and attendees urged the province not to lose sight of the vital corridor.
“This is a great example for potential funding,” said Stone, noting B.C.’s 47,000 kilometres of highway and rural roads the province is responsible for. “So that’s always an ongoing challenge to invest as much as we can in as many kilometres of highway each year – it’s a balancing act.”
Another theme heard locally and across the province, was that aviation is critical to growing the B.C. economy, and small airports are the best way to connect communities.
The need for a runway extension at the Trail Regional Airport was noted during the Trail gathering, and in the Grand Forks meeting, participants expressed airport reliability in Trail and Castlegar a key issue in the region.
Stone said as part of the 10-year B.C. on the Move plan, the new B.C. Air Access Program makes $8 million available annually for three years, so community airports can access grants to improve infrastructure like runways, terminals and lighting.
“We are putting together details now, in terms of the application process and timing of intake,” he explained. “We are hopeful in some cases, to leverage this new program with additional federal dollars whereby investment in regional (municipal) airports are eligible projects.”
Besides fuel-based transportation, the new plan includes an additional $18 million to improve transportation and cycling infrastructure throughout the province.
“Recognizing that an increasing number of British Columbians want to use their bicycles as one of their means of transportation, they need to be able to do so safely,” said Stone.
Funds through Bike BC, a popular grant program, have been upped 50 per cent since last year, he added.
Priorities includes partnering with communities to build new bike lanes and trails, and incorporating better safety for cyclists pedalling provincial highways.
“When we are out doing rehabilitation work and new work, we are always looking for opportunities to widen shoulders,” said Stone. “If a particular highway is known to be a corridor that is frequented by cyclists, we are going to do our best, to make if safer for cyclists.”
Besides doubling the frequency of sweeping, to keep debris off highway shoulders in areas with a high volume of cyclists, Stone said the province is creating new signage and marketing strategies geared toward cycling tourism.
“Whether in the Kootenays, Okanagan, Vancouver Island or Sea-to-Sky, we have phenomenal cycling corridors in this province,” said Stone. “People from around the world come and spend a lot of money to be in British Columbia so we want to do a better job at creating cycling tours. That includes safe shoulders, good information and good signage, because I think it’s got tremendous potential.”