REVELSTOKE – Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce executive director John Devitt says efforts to improve the Trans-Canada Highway around Revelstoke got a big boost at the B.C. Chamber of Commerce’s Annual General Meeting, which wrapped up May 31 in Prince George.
Representatives from across B.C. unanimously supported a recommendation from the Revelstoke chapter to push government for improvements to the highway between Kamloops and the Alberta border.
The recommendation was also given priority status by the B.C. Chamber delegates. It calls for a number of upgrades and improvements, including widening and straightening the highway and installing safety features such as more lighting and snow sheds.
“We are very proud of this outcome,” Devitt said in a statement. “This is the result of two years of strong leadership on this issue from the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce at our provincial Chamber of Commerce. This will prove to be a vital component of our efforts to lobby government to fix our highways and improve access.”
In an interview with the Times Review, Devitt said the Revelstoke chamber studied the issue, putting together a case that demonstrated poor highway conditions and long closures deeply impacted not only Revelstoke, but also businesses across southern B.C.
For example, they found the highway was closed for a total of 27.5 days between November and April this past winter. “That might be a three-hour closure, that might be a three-day closure, but imagine being shut for business almost one full month out of a five-month operating season?” Devitt said.
In dollar terms, Revelstoke’s tourism sector lost $200,000, and the local shipping and industry sector took a $255,000 hit.
“Despite the importance of this highway for provincial connectivity, the lack of suitable infrastructure has led to dozens of deaths, hundreds of injuries, and frequent avalanche closures each year,” states the Revelstoke Chamber’s preamble to the recommendation. “These incidents choke off delivery of goods and services and cripple industry.”
It notes many sections of the Trans-Canada around Revelstoke were completed in 1962 when the national highway was finished, but it was not even built to safety standards of the day. Nearly 50 years later, the highway still lags behind even though it now carries five times the volume of traffic and serves as a main east-west freight transportation corridor.
“I’ve always been very shocked personally that this hasn’t been a priority for government,” Devitt said. “It’s an urgent need and this piecemeal approach to [its] development isn’t suiting our needs and we need faster action.”
Chamber delegates also voted to give the transportation recommendation priority status. “The fact that it’s been made a priority is huge,” Devitt said. “The benefit to this is that it’s not just our voice of our Chamber taking this to provincial government, it’s all members of B.C. Chamber.”
Provincial Chamber staff regularly lobby government on a list of recommendations that are first adopted at the annual general meetings. Currently, they have a list of about 120 issues they’re advancing on behalf of individual Chambers. At the 2011 meeting, 29 new recommendations were adopted.
“It needs to come from a grassroots level,” Devitt said. “It was really proud moment for our Chamber.”
He added the Revelstoke Chamber had worked to build their relationship with the provincial organization.
He also noted other renewed highway improvement lobbying efforts in Revelstoke, including from the City of Revelstoke.
Highway mega-projects are hugely expensive, and often get tangled in jurisdictional struggles between the provincial and federal governments. What’s needed to push the agenda forward? “Drawing attention to the issue is the lowest hanging fruit right now,” Devitt said.