BC Hydro contractors have linked Site C work sites on the north and south banks of the Peace River with a construction bridge—but despite the best efforts of several regional politicians, the crossing is only temporary.
Hydro announced the completion of the bridge Wednesday, saying the 329-metre span was built on time and on budget.
The bridge is needed for construction to begin on the dam's main civil works—including the 60-metre earth fill dam and generating station. It will be dismantled when construction is completed in 2024.
However, residents in both Fort St. John and Chetwynd have pushed for a permanent bridge to add to the three spans that currently cross the Peace River.
A fourth crossing would supplement the Highway 97 bridge at Taylor, which is frequently reduced to single-lane traffic for repairs to its aging metal deck.
Chetwynd Mayor Merlin Nichols said a permanent bridge is not currently among the district's Site C lobbying priorities. However, he said the new span, along with road improvements, could cut travel times between Fort St. John and Chetwynd in half.
"There are many in Chetwynd who would like that access," he said.
Fort St. John pushed for a permanent bridge during negotiations with BC Hydro prior to the dam's approval, but came up short.
"Honestly, we tried, I don't know how many times we tried," Mayor Lori Ackerman said at an event announcing the city's Site C community measures agreement in February.
While the trucking and natural gas industries supported the proposal, Dawson Creek, Hudson's Hope and Taylor worried it would divert vital traffic.
"We thought there should be a permanent crossing there, especially given how dangerous both Taylor hills are," said Fort St. John communications manager Julie Rogers. "If you're a truck driver and you can avoid those hills and just come straight across, that'd be awesome."
She said the city suggested tolling the bridge, but added the idea gained little traction.
Main civil works underway
The opening of the bridge will be accompanied by a major ramp up in construction.
BC Hydro says that with the bridge in place, Peace River Hydro Partners can begin construction on the Site C earthworks—the earthfill dam that will eventually block the Peace River.
Between 50 and 100 vehicles and pieces of machinery are expected to cross the bridge per week for three to four weeks in April. The bridge was built by Prince George's Ruskin Construction.
Site C opponents are in the BC Court of Appeal next week with a lawsuit aimed at blocking the project.