B.C.'s top construction project, a four-lane bridge that moves billions of dollars in goods a day along the Trans-Canada Highway in Kicking Horse Canyon, opens on Friday, 21 months ahead of schedule.
Billed by B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell as a vital shipping artery linking B.C. to Canada and beyond, the new 405-metre-long Park Bridge east of Golden, B.C., is costing the federal and provincial governments $137 million.
The investment, part of a $2.3-billion reconstruction of a 26-kilometre stretch of highway, should prove fruitful for Canadian business while also saving lives, the premier said.
"It's the gateway from B.C. to the rest of Canada, from Canada to British Columbia and from British Columbia to the world," Campbell said during an opening ceremony Thursday for the bridge, which rises 90 metres over the Kicking Horse River.
"It will save us hundreds of lives and it will provide for economic opportunities for people throughout the province," he added.
'Feat of engineering'
The bridge — "a feat of engineering" — will ease congestion as vehicles curve up and over, and also through the mountains, Kootenay-Columbia MP Jim Abbott said. The estimated 2,000 commercial trucks that travel through the canyon daily will also be able to drive along an improved six-kilometre section of the highway.
Before the reconstruction project, the 26-kilometre stretch of road was considered one of the worst in Canada, averaging 140 accidents a year — more than two-and-a-half times the provincial average. An inquiry into a fatal bus accident in 1990 led to recommendations that it be drastically upgraded.
Mayor of Golden James Doyle said he knows the perils of the road first-hand, having been in an accident there himself 17 years ago.
Phase 2 completion set for January 2008
"I've seen way too many people in my 39 years living in Golden get killed or injured badly," Doyle said.
Park Bridge was built under Phase 2 of the Kicking Horse Canyon Project. The second phase of construction, which also includes upgrading six kilometres of highway, is slated for completion in January 2008.
As impressive as the scale of the Park Bridge project is the speed of its construction. It has only been five years since the first blueprints went out.
Phase 3 is expected to be the most complex endeavour, involving major improvements to 17 kilometres of the Trans-Canada Highway and the expansion to four lanes from two lanes.
The first phase, involving three kilometres of highway, began in 2002 and was completed in spring of 2006.
The Trans-Canada Highway route carries 9,000 vehicles per day during the summer and traffic is expected to increase by 50 per cent over the next 25 years, according to a news release from the Kicking Horse project.