Engineering assessments of the Sikanni Chief River Bridge continue this week though it will be some time before it’s fully repaired and opened to heavy traffic.
One person died after a fuel tanker crashed and exploded on the bridge Thursday, Aug. 25, causing significant damage to the Alaska Highway crossing about two hours north of Fort St. John.
Initial assessments done Aug. 27 found three of the bridge’s five spans suffered structural fire damage, according to Public Services and Procurement Canada, the federal department responsible for most of the highway in Northeast B.C.
“Until permanent repairs are completed, the highway will not be fully opened,” said spokesperson Michèle LaRose in an email to Alaska Highway News.
LaRose said the department is looking at options, “including the sourcing of temporary structures to ensure that the bridge remains safe and operational in the short-term, while a long-term option for repairs can be finalized.”
The tanker was carrying condensate and oil, though the exact amounts are not known, according to the provincial environment ministry.
The fire knocked out telecommunications infrastructure, since restored, and forced the closure of the Sikanni bridge for about 24 hours before it was reopened to single-lane alternating traffic for light duty pickups and passenger cars Friday evening. The bridge was reopened to travel trailers and RVs on Saturday morning.
Trucks and commercial vehicles weighing 15,500kg and under are asked to bring weigh slips and call 250-774-6956 before crossing.
Heavy trucks and vehicles over 15,500kg need to detour via Highway 37 or Highway 77 — a 12 to 20-hour detour, said LaRose.
Material sampling around the bridge for further testing will be carried out, while “other testing and engineering assessments are ongoing and will continue over the course of this week.”
"The health and safety of travellers on the Alaska Highway is important to the Government of Canada,” said LaRose.
The incident has delayed the shipment of goods up to Fort Nelson, about two hours north of the Sikanni bridge.
Peace River North MLA Dan Davies says stores and restaurants there are short on stock, or already closed because they've run out. Shipments to local grocery stores have been diverted to different routes, the CBC reported earlier Tuesday.
“A lot of people are bulk buying because of what happened,” said Davies, who was in Fort Nelson on Sunday. “There’s talk about trucks being split up, halving their loads and coming across. That gets really expensive in a real hurry, and those costs got to be put somewhere."
Davies says the provincial government has a duty to step up to support the federal government in the efforts to repair and fully reopen the crossing.
Fixing the bridge, he said, “needs to be a number one priority.”
“We want to make sure it’s safe. I trust and I respect the engineers," he said, adding, "The public needs to know a timeline when to reasonably expect the highway to be back to normal."
“This is going to impact the Yukon, this is going to affect Alaska,” he said.
LaRose said Public Services and Procurement Canada will advise the public in advance of any future closures or impacts to local traffic.
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