The atmospheric river flooding of November 2021 in B.C.’s southern Interior left the province reeling as bridges were washed away along the Coquihalla Highway, effectively closing off the Interior from the coast.

An unprecedented feat of engineering had the highway reopened to commercial traffic 35 days later on Dec. 20, 2021, and now two years later, the Coquihalla reconstruction project is complete.

The Ministry of Transportation announced on Nov. 15 that work on Bottletop Bridge, 50 kilometres south of Merritt, and Jessica Bridge, 20 kilometres north of Hope, is now finished, marking a total of six new climate-resilient bridges to replace those lost in the flood.

Bottletop Bridge is now permanently reopened along the Coquihalla Highway. Photo/MOTI

The work to initially reopen the highway to commercial vehicles just over one month later took more than 300 workers, using 200 pieces of equipment to move more than 400,000 cubic metres of gravel, rock and other material. Traffic was reopened to all vehicles on Jan. 19, 2022, with temporary bridges in place.

The new permanent bridges are expected to withstand much more than their predecessors.

“The new bridges and approaching roadways have been designed and constructed to be more resilient to extreme weather, reads a release from the ministry. “This includes deeper pile footings to withstand high water levels, longer bridge spans to withstand riverbanks eroding over time, and large protective rock dykes to protect the roads from rising water.”

In an effort to restore environmental habitats in these areas, around 4,500 native plants have also been planted, to encourage wildlife and enhance fish populations through shoreline shading.

The project was completed two months ahead of schedule, according to KEA5, a joint venture between Kiewit Infrastructure British Columbia and Emil Anderson Construction.

“The ability to successfully complete this work ahead of schedule is a testament to the experience and expertise of the skilled workers, construction professionals and design engineers in British Columbia,” said Ryan Tones, district manager for Kiewit. “The emergency and permanent repairs to the Coquihalla Highway demonstrate the benefits of alliance-contracting models and the challenges we can overcome when working together. We are grateful for the guidance we’ve received from local First Nation communities throughout the process and to have helped make a key transportation corridor more resilient for years to come.”

Reconstruction work on other B.C. Interior highways damaged by the 2021 floods continues, including work on two of the three bridge replacements on Highway 1 at Nicomen and Falls Creek, and Highway 8 between Spences Bridge and Merritt.

Permanent repairs have been complete on Vancouver Island at the Tunnel Hill intersection of the Malahat that was washed out by flooding.