With the continued economic growth of the oil and gas, forestry, mining and tourism industries, our northern highways are becoming crucial trade routes and are handling heavier traffic. This puts added stress on highway infrastructure and increases the need for safe and reliable routes through northern B.C.
Along Highway 97, passenger vehicle traffic grew by three per cent from 2000 to 2003, and heavy truck traffic increased by as much as 28 per cent. We expect these numbers to continue to grow.
In 2005, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure recognized these increased traffic pressures and introduced the Cariboo Connector program, a long-term program to widen and improve the 460-kilometre portion of Highway 97 from Cache Creek to Prince George. This will involve four-lane construction, intersection development, and safety and capacity improvements. The program was designed to proceed over an extended timeframe with various phases.
For Phase 1, the province committed $200 million in funding over five years. This phase focused on congested sections near communities, and on identified safety issues. Included under Phase 1 was four-laning and intersection improvements at various sections of the highway between Williams Lake and 100 Mile House. On April 13, Premier Christy Clark announced that Phase 2 of the program would go forward with an investment from the province of another $200 million over the next five years. It will involve nine new projects that will four-lane an additional 30 km of Highway 97 between Prince George and Cache Creek, and will create more than 1,000 direct jobs.
Highway 97 will be a safer and more reliable route for tourist and commuter traffic, as well as a more efficient route for resource and trade transportation.
This will help us attract businesses, investment, residents, and tourists to our beautiful part of the province.
Donna Barnett is the Liberal MLA for the Cariboo-Chilcotin.