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Howe Sound on one side, rock cliffs on the other, and A HIGHWAY runs through it

Motorists have seen few disruptions, but Highway 99 upgrade has conservationists and property owners alarmed.



"Are you scared yet?"

Fifteen metres up a sheer slope I’m sitting in the jump seat of a 30-ton articulating rock truck. The driver, Tia Alexandria, is backing up the slope near Lions Bay to the excavator smoothing out the future roadway behind us. Alexandria is coaxing the Cat 750 over a troublesome rock in our path. As the three-month old, $400,000 truck leans precariously toward the drop I wonder if articulating can also mean unsteady.

"By the time we come for a second load he will have noticed this rock and cleared it away for us," Alexandria says.

Yay to that.

It’s 7:30 a.m. and not yet light out but Alexandria has already been on the job for over an hour, trucking debris for contractor Peter Kiewit Sons from one site to a nearby fill as part of the Highway 99 reconstruction project. Divided into 13 DB or design-and-build sections, this is DB3, nearing completion and slated to open its four lanes to traffic Dec. 14.

Alexandria will run her rock truck – they’re not called dump trucks anymore – about 10 times between here and Brunswick Pit 7.5 kilometres to the north. Even at a top speed of 50 km/h each run takes the 23,000 kg truck about 45 minutes. Alexandria spends a lot of time waiting, waiting for the one other truck working with her this time of year to be loaded so she can then back up the slope; then waiting for the excavator operator to load her vehicle with up to 28,000 kg of dirt, trees, and rock. She works 10-12 hours a day helping to rebuild the 100-kilometre project and it’s a job she says she loves.

"I had worked in the military when I was younger, had worked in night clubs waitressing and bartending, and just didn’t want to be in the bars any more," says Alexandria, 46, as explanation for her career switch eight years ago to flagger. She held up stop signs on Vancouver Island projects for a while, but also pitched in as labourer, shovelling and raking, before advancing to paving crew driver. She joined Kiewit this year, and when the opportunity came up to drive one of the three new CATs she said yes.

It’s not the kick-butt stereo system ("I hardly ever listen to it, I prefer the quiet," she says) or the turn-on-a-dime steering that attracts her – it’s the scenery. "This is the most beautiful job for me to work on: being near the water, seeing the eagles fly by," she says.

"There are a couple of ravens that follow us around – they’re very curious," she says, looking up to the trees.