Cantex Okanagan Construction Ltd. Shirley Tary, traffic control manager, and project superintendent Earl MacLeoad go over plans for preparation paving on the Highway 97 four-laning project near Williams Lake Indian Band. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

2017 wildfires delay Highway 97 four-laning project

Cantex Okanagan Construction Ltd. has had to rearrange its entire construction plan

Commuters are not the only ones trying to maintain their patience as work resumes on the Highway 97 four-laning project near Williams Lake Indian Band.

Earl MacLeod, superintendent of the project for Cantex Okanagan Construction Ltd., said if it wasn’t for the 2017 wildfires, his crews would be adding the finishing touches by now.

Instead, the project started up again on May 7, after some preliminary work to make the road passable.

It is hoped the project will be completed by fall 2018.

“During the fires we couldn’t pave and later we had some heavy smoke days and we couldn’t actually put people to work under legal requirements,” MacLeod said. “When we did get back to work it was late in the season and we had our struggles with the asphalt.”

Last year after the fires, the work was restricted, he added.

“It was a mad rush at the end and we were going 24/7 with crews on site. We realize we impacted the local traffic quite a bit.”

Drainage was also a concern, he explained.

Because they had built the highway up to a certain point, temporary drainage was required in some areas, and in other areas where they had done bigger excavations.

“We actually ended up laying pavement over some of the culverts and we were hauling materials from Kamloops and Quesnel in -12C and -14C temperatures just to get them work done.”

There were also some minor blowouts of the new pavement during the winter that had to be milled under the direction of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, he added.

The entire construction plan had to be changed as a result of the delays, he said.

Presently 43 people are working on site and on Monday crews began to pave some patches that are required to keep people driving through the site during the remaining construction.

There will be some short stoppages when full construction is underway, but the plan is to use crossovers instead of using the travel lanes as construction lanes, MacLeod explained.

Unfortunately sometimes flaggers have received backlash from the public with half-empty water bottles and cigarette butts thrown at them, and lots of people are speeding through the 50 km/h zone, Mac-Leod said.

“We understand how people feel and the frustration behind it all, but the speed limit is there for a reason.”

There are lots of good people coming through as well, he added, noting crews are holding their chins up and doing the best they can.

“It’s tough because some of them live in this neighbourhood,” MacLeod said.

“The struggles we are having are not their fault. It was an Act of God and we are all feeling the effects of it now.”

Aside from the wildfires, and wrath from some drivers, the project has also faced vandalism.

On the evening of Sunday, May 13, three paving trucks had all of their windows smashed, which unfortunately, MacLeod said, occurred in between video surveillance timers so there’s no footage of the vandalism.

The RCMP came out to investigate, but so far have not found any suspects, while the damage is estimated to be around $10,000.

“We’ve also had five high-speed chases through this site in the last two weeks with vehicles travelling at 140 to 160 km/h,” MacLeod added.

Highway crew’s

wildfire response

When the fires broke out on July 7, the highway crew sprang into action.

“We had about 25 people on site so on the first night we secured the Chief Will-Yum Gas Bar,” MacLeod recalled.

Crews worked into the night with bulldozers to build a fire guard up as far as the powwow arbor.

The highway crew also went up to Virgina Gilbert’s home on Moose Drive on the upper side of the highway, but when the fire started coming over the hill, MacLeod didn’t think they had a chance to fight it.

In the end, Gilbert’s house escaped the fire, although outbuildings on her property did not.

MacLeod worked with the Ministry of Forests when he was younger and has been called in with different equipment through the years, but said 2017’s fires were unprecedented.

“I’ve seen fire up close and I’ve never seen it react like that,” he said.

“It was moving so fast and so hot. It was unreal. There were embers landing the size of hardhats and the winds were phenomenal.”

Cantex kept two water trucks going with its own ground crews fighting fires up until the evacuation of the city of Williams Lake on July 15.

Many of the employees were out on evacuation order from their homes, with their own homes threatened, but still came to work under a stressful situation, he added.

“Some of our people didn’t return after the fires because they had found other employment. It impacted our crew and a lot of people’s mentalities.”

Cantex didn’t lose any equipment to the 2017 wildfires, although a few hoses, silt fences and environmental controls that were burned had to be replaced.

“We were really lucky actually,” MacLeod said.

Just Posted

Morris Bates takes a chance on life

Morris Bates is by far the Cariboo’s most famous entertainer.

Westridge rezoning amendment faces debate at tonight’s council meeting

A contentious application to rezone for secondary suites in Westridge will be discussed during tonight’s council meeting

Neufeld vying for CRD Area E director

Melynda Neufeld is hoping to get her seat back as a director for the Cariboo Regional District.

Emergency crews attend multi-car collision on Highway 97 Tuesday

Three vehicles involved in incident that temporarily impacts traffic

Court of appeal grants injunction on Taseko’s exploratory drilling in B.C. Interior

The decision provides temporary protection and relief, say Chief Joe Alphonse

B.C. RCMP turn to Const. Scarecrow to shock speeders into slowing down

New addition will watch over drivers from a Coquitlam median for first-of-its-kind pilot in Canada

B.C. home to 1/3 of Canada’s overdose deaths in first 3 months of the year

There were 1,036 overdose deaths in the first three months of the year, with 94 per cent accidental

B.C. candidate moves from hospice care to council race

He beat terminal cancer twice and entered hospice when he decided to run for council.

Canadian tobacco exec pushes back against vaping health concerns

A warning from Interior Health about the unknown health risks of vaping is getting a partial rebuke

Ministry of Agriculture commits $300,000 to help B.C. farmers obtain land

B.C. Land Matching Program supports access to affordable farmland for young farmers

Canadian air force short 275 pilots

Attrition outpaces recruitment and training claims Air Force

Teacher suspended after physically shushing, saying ‘shut up’ to student

Grade 5 student reported feeling ‘confused and a little scared’

A B.C. society helps to reforest Crown land after wildfires

Forest Enhancement Society of BC focuses on wildfire mitigation and the reforestation

B.C. marijuana workers may face U.S. border scrutiny

Cannabis still illegal federally south of the border

Most Read