It has been 124 days since this year’s first West Fraser Road washout near Narcosli Bridge, which closed the road.
For some residents who live past the washout point, that has meant at least 90 round trips via the detour route on Garner Road and Webster Lake Road to Quesnel, to attend work.
A few of the Observer’s reporters drove the route this summer. We’re not taking that route every day, and after more than an hour on the jarringly bumpy gravel road, swerving to avoid potholes and divots and experiencing the equivalent of the very worst mechanical chair massage as we drove over many a cattle guard, we can safely say we wouldn’t want to. Imagine if you didn’t have a choice.
When the road first closed, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) did not offer a timeline on when it might be opened, but residents were hopeful. Surely this back road detour was not anyone’s idea of a solution.
It’s not, but MOTI seems to see no way around it. The government notified ?Esdilagh First Nation (Alexandria) members at the end of July that the road will be closed until 2020, when they hope to begin work on the best possible solution that summer. (It should be noted that, according to locals, MOTI only sent this information to ?Esdilagh. The Buckridge Community Association received the information when ?Esdilagh shared the letter with their neighbours, and have so far not been contacted by MOTI.)
Communication mis-management aside, shovels in the ground summer 2020… how long will such a project take? Considering the road is washed out in five separate places and the ground was so unstable this spring and summer that MOTI engineers were not able to even set foot in the area until recently… repairs, whatever they entail, might take a while.
Let’s be ridiculously optimistic and say it takes three months to completely finish the road after construction begins. Just 761 days to go, then.
How many punctured tires and near misses on the road will the 230-odd residents beyond the washout experience in all those months?
A MOTI representative outlined the various safety upgrades they’d made to Garner Road since West Fraser Road was blocked off. They include dust reduction, cutting down grasses to increase sight lines, and reducing the speed limit. Wonderful. But now that they’ve officially come out with their 2020 estimate – how about paving? Road widening? There’s been no mention of either.
Two years is a heck of a long time to be traversing a back road. School buses are back on the route next week, and winter? She’ll arrive before we know it, with plenty of snow, ice and pitch-dark evenings. Will it take a fatal crash to get that detour upgraded to a safe route?
For everyone’s sake, we hope MOTI steps up.
Quesnel Cariboo Observer