'If you're stuck, you're stuck': How drivers endured a two-day traffic jam in B.C.
They passed the time in coffee shops and gas stations, waiting more than 48 hours for traffic on B.C.’s Coquihalla Highway to budge from a virtual standstill brought on by last week’s heavy snow and freezing rain. They were the lucky ones.
Some motorists trapped in their vehicles along the frozen highway were forced to spend the night in their cars after every major highway linking the Lower Mainland with the rest of the province was closed due to harsh winter weather.
“You can’t turn around. You can’t do nothing. You’re just stopped in the middle of the highway,” one commercial truck driver told CTV Vancouver. “You’re in the truck, and you can’t even get out because there’s snow everywhere.”
Officials halted the Coquihalla Highway, also known as British Columbia Highway 5, between Hope, B.C. and Merritt, B.C. in both directions on Thursday due to extremely icy conditions.
Hope is about 150 kilometers east of Vancouver.
The B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure warned of “significant delays in both directions due to traffic volume and congestion,” as vehicles dealt with compact snow, icy roads, pooling water and dense fog.
Officials cautiously reopened the highway on Friday, but decided to close it again in both directions a few hours later, as conditions deteriorated and some transport trucks lost control and spun out.
DriveBC tweeted that the highway was reopened by about 4 a.m. local time on Saturday.
The shutdown caused a massive traffic snarl that delayed drivers for hours after lanes reopened.
Many questioned why they were allowed to set out along the slippery route in the first place. Others simply resigned themselves to an evening of “car camping” as night fell.
For one group of stranded travellers, the slick tarmac became an impromptu rink for a game of street hockey.
The province says closing roads is not something it takes lightly. Mike Lorimer, the regional director for the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructures, said routes like the Coquihalla Highway can be especially treacherous when hit with snow and freezing rain.
“It is an incredibly challenging highway,” he said. “It has a big snow belt. It (was) definitely winter conditions. Really unprecedented levels of freezing rain (that) we couldn’t stay on top of. (There were) so many vehicles trying to get though there.”
Now that the weather has improved and tempers have cooled, many have said the province was right to exercise caution. If nothing else, the experience has given hundreds of people a classic Canadian winter driving story to tell.
With a report from CTV Vancouver’s Sarah MacDonald