After 11 months, countless work hours, and collaboration between the provincial government and local First Nations, the Highway 8 corridor from Merritt to Spences Bridge is open once again. A press conference was held in Merritt on November 9, 2022, followed by an opening Ceremony approximately 15 kilometers from Spences Bridge at the site of a major washout.
The reopening press conference was held at the Merritt Civic Centre, where project stakeholders, municipal officials, provincial representatives, and four Chiefs of First Nations impacted by the closure of the highway. Merritt CAO Sean Smith emceed the event, introducing B.C’s Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Rob Fleming, who announced the highway’s reopening and thanked all those involved in recovery efforts.
“From the first day of the atmospheric river, people have gone above and beyond to help us to reach this important milestone,” said Fleming.
“We all owe a huge debt of gratitude for the impressive work that crews and staff have done to reconnect the people and communities along Highway 8.”
Chief Christine Minnabarriet of Cooks Ferry, Chief Arnie Lampreau of Shackan, Chief Marcel Shackelly of Nooaitch, and Chief Norman Drynock of Nicomen attended the reopening, and all spoke to the importance of the corridor. The Chiefs urged Minister Fleming and his government to continue to collaborate with First Nations, and thanked him for his work during the Highway 8 restoration project.
“We are happy to have that corridor open to connect families and bring them home. It has significant value to our nation — it provides connection to each other, our resources, hunting, fishing, gathering, even spiritual. But also to health care and other emergency services,” said Chief Minnabarriet.
The Highway 8 corridor from Merritt to Spences Bridge was heavily damaged by the atmospheric river event in November 2021, washing away entire sections of asphalt and closing the stretch of road for 361 days. A number of sites were eroded, covered with debris, or altogether lost to the overpowering flow of water. The corridor saw further damage in August 2022, when a mudslide caused by precipitation halted recovery efforts in parts of the area. A further 23 hectares of agricultural land was damaged in this event.
The restoration project, which was taken on by six different contractors and five First Nations, has resulted in a fully reconnected highway. The area is still an active construction site, as permanent repairs are underway. Fleming told the Herald that no timeline is available for the permanent restoration of the highway, work is already underway to secure contractors and restore the highway back to its former glory.
Drivers utilizing the newly reopened are asked to drive with caution near traffic workers, obey all temporary road signs, and drive to conditions. For up-to-date closure and weather information, visit www.drivebc.ca.