Construction of the Dry Gulch Bridge on the Coquihalla Highway. (TransBC)

Construction of the Dry Gulch Bridge on the Coquihalla Highway. (TransBC)

30 years later: Stories from the Coquihalla

Over 30 years later, the extraordinary piece of infrastructure is still admired

In 1973 when the need for viable transportation routes between growing cities called for a direct route between Hope, Merritt and Kamloops, with a subsequent connection Eastbound to the Okanagan Valley, developers set out on a journey to plan the route of a highway that would span across southwestern B.C. and serve as an efficient alternative to the Trans-Canada Fraser Canyon route.

Nine million tonnes of gravel, 700,000 dump truck loads of dirt, 26,000 tonnes of steel and 12 years later: phase one of three construction phases for the Coquihalla highway was completed.

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Ten thousand workers braved the harsh working conditions, blowing out thousands of hectares of rock and rough terrain to create the pathway for construction.

Although not many of these workers are around today, their masterpiece is still admired by all, 30 years after its inception.

“My uncle, that has since passed away, was one of the superintendent[s] on the job and I remember seeing an old 8 mm video of him flying over the route in a helicopter and pictures he took as the project went on as he loved his camera,” wrote Randy Jackson in memory of his late family member. “I was lucky enough to even been able to travel the highway before it was open and remember how strange it was with know other cars around.”

The late Bill Kobenter, who worked on the Coquihalla, used to research the geometric design standards for the engineers and civil technicians that worked on the highway.

His son, Robert Kobenter recalled old memories of his father in a string of comments on TransBC’s website.

“He always prided himself in working with a dedicated team of knowledgeable and skilled co-workers. He, like many, believed passionately in the domain, the discipline and the work. Reading your comments brought back a smile and many memories.”

The highway was known to have had environment and fishery experts consult the building process along the way.

One writer pointed out that, “Caribou had migratory routes that traverse the area where the Coquihalla was built and that tunnels were built specifically for animal migration.” Approximately 90,000 metres of fencing was installed in order keep animals out of harms way.

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A symbol of provincial infrastructure and pride, the Coquihalla even has a bumper sticker dedicated to its ferocity: “I DROVE THE COQUIHALLA”.

So if you don’t have any plans over the long weekend, take a car down through the boonies and join the fraternity of Coquihalla enthusiasts.


David Venn
Reporter, Kelowna Capital News
Email me at david.venn@kelownacapnews.com
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