The Douglas Trail, also known as the Highline Road, has seen its annual maintenance budget cut by over half recently with the end of a temporary grant of $42,000 from the Ministry of Transportation (MOT).
The future of the rugged road — which connects D'Arcy to Seton Portage along the western edge of Anderson Lake — is up in the air until the official status of the road can be established. The cuts could mean that the road will be more difficult to travel in the future.
That's not good news for the 50 to 70 vehicles a day that use the route, as the alternative route from Pemberton requires drivers to go to Lillooet and come back along Seton Lake — a difference of almost two hours. But the road's supporters point out that there are safety concerns as well, given that the road has been used to evacuate residents during two forest fires since the main route was unavailable, the most recent being in 2009. During the 2003 floods when the Rutherford Bridge washed out and the Duffey Lake Road was impassible, the Highline was the only route into Pemberton.
According to Dennis De Yagher of the Seton Chamber of Commerce, which has coordinated maintenance on the road the past six years, there are several possibilities to save the road:
One is an ongoing court case in Kamloops involving private property owners along the road. They want to subdivide the land for recreational properties, said De Yagher, but can't proceed until they get a ruling as to whether it's classified as a public road that would fall under the MOT budget.
Another possibility is the Resource Road Act, which was recently reintroduced by the Province of B.C. after stalling in 2008. The Act would apply to all roads used by resource industries, and dictates a standard of maintenance as long as a road is active. The road is currently used by BC Transmission Corporation, a division of BC Hydro, to access powerlines and hydro projects.
For more on Resource Roads, see our story on page 40.
Giving the road to First Nations with funding or in partnership with stakeholders was also discussed. The St'alt'imx First Nation, including the Chalath and N'Quat'qua use the road, and are invested in keeping the corridor open.
The other option would be to bring the MOT back on board as a funding partner, either permanently or until either the Resource Road Act or court case can settle the issue.
"The people at D'Arcy and Seton Lake would like to see it maintained," said De Yagher. "We're not looking for a highway, most people here like that it's a little remote... but they still see the need for it to be maintained (while) it's used on a regular basis."
The Squamish Lillooet-Regional District is lobbying on behalf of the communities, while First Nations are making their own case to keep the road open. De Yagher also wrote to the ministry to ask for assistance.
According to a ministry spokesperson, their commitment to the Highline Road goes back six years as a response to requests from the community: "The intent of this short-term funding was to provide the community time to reach a longer term maintenance agreement with the key stakeholder and road users," said a ministry spokesperson in an email.
"As such the ministry provided funding to the Seton Portage Chamber of Commerce through a five-year agreement, which expired in 2010. To allow the community a bit more time to organize, the ministry granted a one-year extension to the funding agreement, but that extension expired in March 2011 and the ministry is no longer able to provide funding for this service."
Until they can get a resolution, the budget for the road is $40,000, with half the money coming from BC Hydro and the other half from BC Transmission Corporation.
The chamber organizes the maintenance and bills the stakeholders for maintenance. There is no money for capital upgrades to the highway, such as new bridges or re-routes around areas that are prone to rock slides.