Rural roads taskforce targets year-round axle loading

The North Peace Rural Roads Taskforce met with Peace River Regional District directors Thursday to give an update on the state of the roads in the region.

Jackie Kjos, who helms the taskforce for the PRRD, says focus has switched from targetting hard surfacing upgrades to ensuring all roads are at 100% legal axle loading, year-round.

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“We’re not asking for every road in the North Peace to be paved, in fact, we’re asking for a fairly small percentage of them to be paved,” said Kjos, noting even a small amount of paving would be an economic boon.

Oil and gas, forestry, and agriculture remain the major economic users of rural roads. Some are already paved, but don't support legal axle loading year-round.

Kjos told the PRRD in June that the rural road system was in dire need of support, noting 104 days of road bans last spring – the fourth longest stretch in 40 years.

A grid system has been proposed, going east to west and north to south, to ensure access and axle loading throughout agricultural areas. 

“We need to have some corridors running north and south, and lateral corridors tying those together, so that industry can continue to function,” Kjos said, adding residents often travel upwards of 10 kilometres to connect to a paved road.

There are around 400 kilometres of road in the region needing repair, to the tune of $1 million per kilometre.

Meanwhile, there were at last count seven separate slides threatening to take out the Upper Halfway Road, while the bill to fix the Farell Creek hill near Hudson's Hope sits at $100 million.

The provincial roads budget for the region was only $20 million last year. Adding pullouts and gravelling, along with brushing and ditching are also among the priorities identified by the taskforce.

 “We can’t take $100 million and pour it into that one hill, when we have so many other needs,” noted Kjos.

Rob Fleming has recently been appointed the province's new transportation minister.

Though his predecessor Claire Trevena never met with the group after several requests and invites for a tour of the region, Kjos said government relations have improved at the local level.

“Without a really strong relationship with the MOTI office, there was no future for this group,” said Kjos, speaking highly of district transportation manager Katherine Styba.

Taylor Mayor Rob Fraser said rural roads in Baldonnel continue to benefit his community, as both a secondary exit for highway closures and for firefighting access. 

"Taylor came into this with the idea that those roads in Baldonnel were important to us," Fraser said. "But I've learned in the last four years how important these rural roads are, all of them to the economies of Taylor, Fort St John, and really all the communities in the Peace River region."

Hudson's Hope Mayor and taskforce committee member Dave Heiberg commented on the value of industry users and MOTI working together with the taskforce. 

"The thing that impressed me the most is the willingness of these people to work together. I haven't seen that before," said Heiberg. 

Email reporter Tom Summer at tsummer@ahnfsj.ca.

[Eds. note: Article updates and removes reference to $4 million need to resurface the Milligan Road. That was completed in 2019 to restore the badly deteriorated paved surface.]

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