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B.C. to build new flood-proof bridge on Highway 97 in Cache Creek

Bridge will replace culvert beside Dairy Queen that contributed to 2023 flooding
Aerial view of the proposed new Highway 97 crossing at the Dairy Queen (building at bottom centre), as well as two additional crossings of Cache Creek further upstream (at Quartz Road and at the Cache Creek Motor Inn). (Photo credit: Ministry of Transportation)

Residents of Cache Creek got an up-close look at the Highway 97 Cache Creek Crossing Restoration Project at an open house on Oct. 4. The project will include the installation of a bridge to replace the culvert under Highway 97 where it crosses Cache Creek near the Dairy Queen.

The Highway 97 culvert is one of three “chokepoints” on the creek which have been identified as as having contributed to major flooding in the community, most recently in May 2023. The four-lane bridge, which will be approximately 13 metres long and built to a 75-year lifespan, will see the creek “daylighted” at that spot. The channel will be deepened and widened to handle peak river flows and debris, especially during the spring freshet, and will be built to ensure structural stability against erosion.

John Robineau, deputy director the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s (MOTI) Cariboo Road Recovery Projects, is in charge of the project, along with 10 other major projects between Williams Lake and Quesnel in response to landslides in 2020 and 2021. He says that his project team was able to take on the project to support the recovery efforts in Cache Creek, and that they are looking to see work begin as early as this winter. The entire project is expected to take one construction season (usually April through October), with a plan to complete the work in 2024.

“We’ve done advance procurement for some components of the bridge, and pre-construction activities, such as utility relocation, are done in advance of work starting,” he says. “While that’s underway traffic management like signs and cones will be in place.

“The southbound lanes will be built first, then the northbound lanes, so we’ll build two lanes and move traffic to that, then build the other two lanes. During construction all business access will remain open, and pedestrian and bike access will still be maintained, so people can get to the school.”

Robineau notes that the bridge design will allow the highway to remain at the current elevation, so drivers won’t face a “hump”.

“The new crossing will be wider and deeper to accommodate design flows, as well as debris coming down the channel. We’re also looking to accommodate for floodwater volumes. Climate resiliency is a key focus with this project.”

He notes that there are several benefits to the ministry and the village working together on the Cache Creek corridor, and says that the Highway 97 crossing — the most downstream of the three chokepoints on the creek — is a good place to start work from a hydraulic perspective.

“If you start at the top [Quartz Road] you get a perfect new channel, but water hits the next chokepoint with more volume. Working up to the headwater establishes a new standard for all of them.”

Robineau adds that the project will also improve the environmental habitat within the creek’s channel, and that the ministry and Bonaparte First Nation have worked together to prevent spawning in the channel for this season, to facilitate the new habitat being built.

“It goes a long way to start rebuilding Cache Creek as a fish habitat that’s a safe place to be.”

He acknowledges that there is “certainly more work to be done,” however, a sentiment with which Cache Creek CAO Damian Couture agrees.

“We’re starting a public consultation process,” says Couture. “We want to be thorough, but we know we have to be fast. We’ve been working heavily with MOTI, and have been focused on assisting with their project, but now that they’re ready for tender we can shift focus back to the other two chokepoints.”

One of the two is at Quartz Road, where the creek has now been daylighted past the fire hall. Before this year’s flooding there were three lanes at Quartz Road and Highway 1: two vehicle lanes exiting onto the highway and one vehicle lane entering from it, with no dedicated pedestrian space. The road has been gone since May, and Couture says the village has been hearing a lot from the public about what needs to happen there.

“It’s not a quick process, but we’re trying to get through it as quickly as we can. What people want there can be very different from person to person. We do hear ‘We want a bridge,’ but there can be a lot of different bridges to span that space.”

The village has recently put out a survey (available on their Facebook page and website; residents can also contact the village office by phone, email, or in-person) outlining the four options they are considering for Quartz Road:

1) Put in a bigger culvert that is rated to handle the water flow, but keep the same lane configuration as in the past. This would probably be the least costly option for the village, as restoring the site to (more or less) its pre-event condition would mean that 90 to 95 per cent of the project cost would be covered by Disaster Financial Assistance.

2) Create a bridge with three vehicle lanes (two exiting Quartz Road and one entering it) and pedestrian space. This would probably be the most costly option.

3) Create a bridge with only two lanes, one of which would be wide enough for vehicles but would be used for pedestrians except in case of emergency. “We understand that there’s a decent amount of contention about the amount of traffic at the four-way stop adjacent to the community hall,” says Couture, “so maybe it makes sense that Quartz Road leaving the residential area is out only to Highway. One [of the two] lanes could be pedestrian walking space, but could be used for traffic.”

4) Leave the area more or less as it is now, with no road access to Highway 1 and a pedestrian bridge across Cache Creek at Quartz Road. “Maybe we don’t put anything back, get rid of the road, pretty-up the space, and have a pedestrian bridge,” says Couture.

Three of the four proposed plans would have major traffic implications for the area, and Couture says that council has already directed staff to begin conversations with MOTI about changing the traffic light signalization at Highway 97 and Stage Road, regardless of what goes in at Quartz.

“I wish we had some mock-up designs, but waiting for them would slow down the process,” Couture adds. “That’s why it’s so important to get input. We want to see what people want, get first and second choices, then do mock-ups or theoretical drawings of the top two, or maybe even just one if it’s a resounding winner. If one option is clearly ahead of the rest the recommendation to council would be just to look at that one.”

The culvert at the Cache Creek Motor Inn has been identified as probably the only other chokepoint on Cache Creek.

“There used to be multiple culverts throughout the community, but they’ve slowly been removed,” notes Couture. “After we’ve spanned the other two it might be the only culvert left in the whole waterway within municipal limits.”

There has been some “significant discussion” going on about how to solve that issue.

“With all that water going through the space, can it handle that much volume, or will it be damaged?” asks Couture. “We’ve been talking with adjacent property owners and many ministries to sort out that issue, and the conversations with all the parties have been great so far. Everyone has a common goal that this is an issue that needs to be resolved.”

Couture adds that the village already has an eye on the 2024 freshet season.

“We’re already having conversations with the Ministry of Emergency Management about what if we have the same issue next year with the same volumes and what do we need to do to mitigate something like this year’s event.

“That conversation is ongoing. We’ll see some substantial change, but it’s very challenging figuring out how to do so much before the next freshet. We have some strong allies and advocates who are working with us, and I think we’ll see some positive things. I’m hoping for the best.”