Quality of life was a constant refrain during an announcement of $24 million for road and highway improvements in the North Peace and Northern Rockies that was made by Peace River North MLA Pat Pimm on Friday, May 4.
Admittedly looking a bit scruffy after growing his hair in preparation for a Bluey Days shave, Pimm sat next to a map of Northeast British Columbia in his Fort St. John constituency office to outline plans to upgrade local transportation routes that he expects to “make North Peace roads safer for all of our residents.”
“It’s projects that we hear a lot about over the course of the years,” said Pimm.
The summer construction projects include over 63 kilometres of new hard surfacing on both highways and side roads in the Fort St. John and Fort Nelson areas, as well as new gravel surfaces for certain side roads and dust suppression programs.
“The hospital is going to have its grand opening,” said Pimm, discussing one of the Fort St. John projects, the upgrading of 86 Street.
“They’ve upgraded the road right from 109 Avenue all the way to the East or North Bypass [Road], whatever you want to call it there,” he added. “And so now, this year, it will go from 109 Avenue all the way down to 100 Avenue.”
That project involves widening the road and adding streetlights.
Side roads receiving new paved surfaces are Hilltop, Rimrock, Charlie Lake South, Old Hope and 100 Street Lookout.
Charlie Lake South was identified as a health and safety issue concerning the adjacent Charlie Lake Elementary School.
“It will kind of clean up that area by the school and take the dust and stuff away from the children,” said Pimm.
“It’s a big residential area in here,” he said of the need to pave Hilltop Road, adding that there is an unpaved section of the Old Hope Road that also required upgrades.
“This kind of helps clean that up and extend it up and around and up to the top of hill looking over the Peace [River],” he said of that route.
Other side roads to be improved with new graveled and graded surfaces are the Clayhurst Ferry 108 Road, which frequently has issues with sloughing, the Clayhurst 111 Hill and the Altona Road in the Prespatou area, just northwest of Fort St. John.
“It’s a big farming community out there,” said Pimm, indicating the importance of improving the roads in that area.
Pimm noted the necessity of improved dust suppression in farming communities and residential areas. Dust control will also be applied to the Altona Road and Clayhurst Ferry 108 Road, as well as the Beryl Prairie Road.
“That certainly makes it better for our industry folks and for all the residents as well,” Pimm continued, addressing the value of these road and highway improvement projects.
“It not only makes travelers safer,” he added, “it’s more efficient for residents and industry and improves the quality of life for everybody in all of our communities in the area.
“It also brings in good paying jobs. All of these construction jobs are good paying jobs.”
The summer program is expected to create 120 direct jobs throughout the region, including the Fort Nelson area, where Highway 77 will see the completion of the Kilometre 83 to Kilometre 120 resurfacing project as well as the resurfacing of the highway from Kilometre 120 to Kilometre 138, amounting to 55 kilometres of new paved surface.
“It’s one that’s going to be a very big player as time goes on,” said Pimm, alluding to the fact that these upgrades could also greatly benefit the natural gas industry in the province with improved access to the shale gas plays of the Horn River Basin and Liard Basin.
“That’s a very important road for the Fort Nelson people,” he added.
Other improvements in Fort Nelson include new lighting at the intersection of the Alaska Highway and the Simpson Trail and construction of the Fort Nelson Gateway Intersection. The gateway intersection, where drivers turn north on the Sierra Yoyo Desan (SYD) Road, is supposed to receive left turn and deceleration lanes and new traffic lights.
“We have a continuing program with the SYD road in the Fort Nelson area,” Pimm added. “And last year we got a big start on that. Did about 10 kilometres. They’ll be finishing that portion up this year.”
Additional road and highway upgrades are being considered, said Pimm, but some of those have been put on hold due to conflicts with other projects, such as sewer improvements.
“Those have been put on the backburner until we find out what happens with some of those projects,” he said.
Pimm remarked that the North Peace has received $560 million for these sorts of projects since 2001, a portion of that investment coming from the Oil and Gas Rural Road Improvement Program.
“And we’re just going to continue along that line,” he said. “And someday we’ll have roads paved up here the same as they have down south. And I think that’s better for everybody’s quality of life.
“But it’s important that we work together this year and improve the highways in the region for all of the folks, all of the families that are living in the area.”