The provincial government has shelved, at least for now, a planned vehicle overpass over the CN tracks where they cross Hwy16 50km west of Terrace.
First announced in 2015 at an anticipated cost of $37 million — $19.5 million from the province and $17.5 million from the federal government — the cost would now have been more than $57 million.
With the federal contribution capped at $17.5 million, the provincial contribution would then be more than double its initial $19.5 million.
“The government reviews its budgets and has to make some choices which are not taken lightly,” said Dan Baker, the acting district manager for the transportation and infrastructure ministry, adding the ministry allocates its spending where it will get the best viable return.
“At the time this was regarded as a good project. It just didn’t work out,” he said.
The level crossing, which features a twisty ‘S’ curve for traffic crossing over CN’s tracks, is the last of its kind along Hwy16 within B.C. and replacing it with an overpass was touted as a safety measure and in recognition of the growing volume of rail traffic to and from Prince Rupert’s port operations.
Costs began to escalate when a first design concept involving extending the highway into the Skeena River to eliminate the ‘S’ curve was abandoned early on to safeguard fish and other habitat.
The alternative was then to build up into the rock bluffs on the other side of the highway, said Baker.
“That would essentially have meant two significant portions to the project — approaches on each side of 1.8 kilometres up and over the rock bluffs and then down to grade for a bridge over the [CN] tracks,” he said.
Grading and rock blasting needed for the approaches to the overpass and the structural design of the overpass itself were cited as factors making the project a complex one. As envisioned, it would have taken approximately two years to build.
Despite putting the project on hold, the design is considered “shelf ready” should the financing needed ever be put into place.
“There would be a design review as design standards change but this project remains the preferred option,” said Baker.
Instead, the province is to spend $5 million this summer for added safety measures to ensure drivers are more aware of the level crossing.
There’ll be new guardrails, ones that are flared at their start to lessen the chances vehicles will drive into them, and speed reader boards to tell drivers they are exceeding the 30km an hour speed limit through the ‘S’ curve.
“So if a driver is coming in a little bit hot, there’ll be an extra incentive to slow down,” said Baker of the reader boards.
As well, signs with flashing lights will be installed.
Baker said the work will be managed by the ministry and undertaken by companies who already have contracts with the ministry and by equipment hired through its standard day labour list.
Although the federal government committed $17.5 million to the project, no monies were ever sent because no work milestones were ever reached.
With the project now on hold, it’s up to the federal government to decide what to do with that money.
The project had no financial contributions from CN.