Trucking industry struggles to bypass catastrophic highway closures in British Columbia

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Larry Stefaniuk was hauling around $ 50,000 worth of Vancouver Island groundfish to a pet food processing plant in Edmonton on Sunday night when he came across one of the landslides blocking the highway 7 in Agassiz, British Columbia.

Stefaniuk was among the first to arrive at the slide in a dark torrential rain. He was forced to leave his truck on the road and find shelter. Tuesday he was still on the road.

Time is running out for its perishable cargo. It has a shelf life of about six days, and it didn’t start transporting it until two days after it was crushed. That leaves Stefaniuk only two days before he has to go to the factory to avoid total waste, he says.

“If we don’t get him moving, it will be too late,” he said. “Logistics are too important at the moment. “

Stefaniuk is one of many freight drivers unable to deliver goods after being caught in the chaos of the floods and mudslides that largely cut off population centers in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland – including the Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley – from the rest of the country. .

There are four highways that connect the Lower Mainland to the rest of the province: 1 (Trans Canada), 3 (Crowsnest), 5 (Coquihalla) and 99. Highway 7, where Stefaniuk was stopped, is more or less parallel to part of Route 1 west of Hope.

They were all closed by landslides and flooding caused by an extraordinary “atmospheric river” event that dumped a month of rain over parts of the south of the province in two days.

“Putting supply chains back in motion”

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Rob Fleming told a press conference on Tuesday that Highway 7 could have one lane clear by Tuesday evening and that Highway 3 could reopen by end of the weekend, but he didn’t even hint when the other three freeways could be fixed.

“We fully recognize how important it is right now in British Columbia to reopen road links between the Lower Mainland and the interior to get supply chains back on track,” said Fleming.

For Douglas MacIntyre, another driver trapped behind the Highway 7 toboggan, the wait has already been tough.

“I just want to secure my truck and know how to get home,” he said. “The biggest challenge in getting from point A to point B right now is finding an open route.”

Douglas MacIntyre, a truck driver stranded behind a landslide in Agassiz, waits for his vehicle to move again. (Andrew Lee / CBC)

MacIntyre’s cargo wasn’t going to rot – it was hauling drywall from Port Kells to Penticton. But if he doesn’t transport goods, he doesn’t get paid, and studying the damage in the south of the province, he doesn’t like what he sees.

“This is going to be extremely difficult for the transportation industry,” MacIntyre said.

Empty store shelves

Across the province, people are finding grocery store shelves bare.

Zeeshan Khan, who volunteers for an organization in Chilliwack that delivers free groceries to those in need, said on his way to the grocery store near his neighborhood on Tuesday morning, he saw a line that was around the building.

“I don’t want to see this again,” he told CBC’s. The first edition. “We saw it at the start of the pandemic, and I think it’s fear.”

He said he was worried about what would be left over for those who couldn’t make it to the stores on their own.

“We can’t find any [groceries] in the store or anywhere, and there is nothing our donors can do if there is nothing available in the market, ”he said.

Another Chilliwack resident says she has used her social media accounts to remind others that there are families and people in the community who might not be able to afford the food they need. this moment.

“There are marginalized people, there are old people, there are disabled people, there are single parents who rely on groceries when they receive their monthly check,” said Anita Simon. “Seniors don’t get their wages until next week.”

Save-on-Foods said in a statement to CBC that it asks customers to “maintain normal shopping habits.”

“We understand that these are uncertain times and that many people just want to do what’s right for their families,” a spokesperson for the grocery chain said.

Shoppers flocked to grocery stores across British Columbia, including this Kelowna Save-on-Foods, leaving shelves bare Tuesday as extreme weather hampered restocking efforts. (Anita Sthankiya / CBC)

The produce section of a Save-on-Foods store in Prince George was nearly cleared Tuesday, as transportation routes rocked by multiple severe landslides in southern British Columbia. (Andrew Kurjata / CBC)

No risk of out of stock, according to the truckers association

Dave Earle, president of the BC Trucking Association, sent a similar message to consumers: don’t panic, buy.

“I can’t tell you that there won’t be supply chain disruption. There will be,” Earle said. “It might take days, or a week, but we’re not going to run out, and that’s what’s really important for all of us to realize. We’re not going to run out of these supplies.”

He said trucking companies are really good at finding ways to move freight – they are, and alternative plans are already underway.

“Just because you’re on one side of a slide doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get, say, fresh California fruit or veg – they’ll just come in a different way,” Earle said. .

He said goods will ultimately cost more to move, and consumers will therefore pay more. But he said a 10 percent increase in shipping costs would typically only add about one percent to price tags in the store.

Some drivers and businesses will be able to move trucks across the United States, although, according to Earle, this comes with its own administrative process and obstacles.

Stefaniuk said if he could get his truck off Highway 7 in time he would consider heading back to Vancouver Island, heading north to Port Hardy, taking the BC Ferries route to to Prince Rupert, then cross to Edmonton on Highway 16.

It’s a long detour that will add about $ 2,500 to the cost of the ferry, but at least the groundfish will arrive at the pet food processing plant before it expires.


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