Highway plans skip Salmon River bridge

Salmon River: Citizens push for improvements to narrow crossing.

Plans in progress: John Schlosar and Roy Teto discuss the plan to four-lane the Trans-Canada Highway at the west end of Salmon Arm with the Ministry of Transportation’s Mike Brugger Thursday night at an open house in Sicamous.

Plans in progress: John Schlosar and Roy Teto discuss the plan to four-lane the Trans-Canada Highway at the west end of Salmon Arm with the Ministry of Transportation’s Mike Brugger Thursday night at an open house in Sicamous.

Replacement of the Salmon River Bridge is a top priority for residents, according to what Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure staff were told Feb. 20.

The ministry held an open house in Salmon Arm, where plans for the Trans-Canada Highway were outlined. Plans for the west end of town include four-laning a two-kilometre stretch of highway from 10th Street SW to 30th Street SW. It would entail an upgrade to three intersections, construction of two new intersections, and 1.4 kilometres of new frontage roads. The project status is listed as “currently in design.”

The plans do not include a bridge replacement, which was put forward as a priority by residents concerned both about a potential bottleneck from the four-laning, as well as the potential for damage from a severe flood.

Mike Lorimer, Southern Interior regional director of MOTI, said more than 100 people attended the open house, most who were in favour of the four-laning, and most who mentioned the bridge.

“We definitely heard from folks at the open house, the bridge is front and centre for the community.”

He said the bulk of the funds available for highway improvements have not been allocated. The province has committed $650 million over the next 10 years for future widening of the Trans-Canada Highway, and the work in Salmon Arm is one of seven projects that will make up $140 million of the $650 million. The province is also seeking contributions from the federal government.

“We know what our engineers and planners are saying the next priorities are, but without talking to people in the community who drive the road every day… It’s definitely not set in stone and even those seven projects we’re talking about, with the exception of a couple of them which are very well advanced, on the other five, we want feedback.”

Along with open houses and meetings with local government, the ministry is accepting online feedback at www.bchwy1.ca until March 1.

Mayor Nancy Cooper said council emphasized that replacing the Salmon River Bridge is a priority, and was told the ministry has made adjustments to plans in the past if enough input is received.

Residents Garry Landers, George Zorn and Calvin Van Buskirk say this is a crucial time for a flood assessment before the highway is upgraded – and they want the city to act.

Van Buskirk said a number of hydrology experts say the city’s flood plain maps are out of date, and a flood hazard assessment, which would cost less than $50,000, is a necessity.

In 2012, council, in a 4-3 vote, turned down a plan to put $15,000 towards an assessment in the 2013 budget.

“If we can mitigate flood hazards and risks by incorporating a floodway into a highway upgrading and adjusting the highway elevation by raising or lowering in certain locations, at that point we could possibly mitigate a lot of the flood risks to southwest Salmon Arm as well as agricultural land,” said Van Buskirk. He notes that building is being done to a certain flood level, but based on information from the last 20 to 30 years, it could be out by as much as a metre. Factors such as climate change, the pine beetle and logging have all affected flood potential.

“The key component is, the timing is critical,” said Landers of the highway plans. “We spend all the money on interchanges and then realize we’re dealing with a flood situation. They aren’t going to touch it after having put all the money into it.”

Zorn points to a letter written June 11, 1894 from Annie (McQueen) Gordon to her mother where she writes that water came within a foot of her door. The cabin she was living in sat half a kilometre from the old Mount Ida Hall at the corner of 50th Avenue SW and the Salmon River Road.

“We don’t want to say the sky is falling and be alarming, but for a long-term plan we need a flood assessment,” Zorn said.

Lorimer said if the bridge were to be replaced, all the latest information on hydrology would be used.

Asked if the ministry would consider doing a flood assessment, he said, “Well not if it’s not warranted. I don’t have the details on that necessarily. Again, the issue of flooding is a local government issue… Our responsibility is based on making sure that the road passes the natural drainage. So when you get to the four-laning in the vicinity of the Salmon River, it’s definitely part of that. The other stage, the issue of local flooding, lies with local government to address.”

He said there might be a possibility for cost-sharing if there was a benefit to the highway infrastructure.

Landers is also concerned about the scope of plans. He would like to see consideration of rerouting the highway out of the city.

“There is no contingency whatsoever with a massive amount of traffic coming into Salmon Arm, dividing the town up… This is a band-aid approach, they’re going to hit the sections that are easiest to do.”