PRINCE GEORGE, BRITISH COLUMBIA – Recently completed studies led by the Northern Development Initiative Trust and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure highlight the opportunities for economic growth in northern BC if improvements are made to several structures in the Pine Pass. The studies focused on eight low clearance overhead railway crossings and the Salmon River and Parsnip bridges located between Quesnel and Dawson Creek. For years, industry has stated that the existing height and width constraints hamper their ability to diversify manufacturing as well as supply and freely move large equipment and loads to and from northeast BC and the rest of the province. The Northern Development study focused on the economic business case and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure study provided engineered options and costing.
A few examples of loads that have had to be sourced or trucked through Alberta rather than up or down Highway 97 include compressor station components, combines, manufactured homes, large dozers, drilling tanks, bridge components, and coal and ore trucks used in the mining industry.
The proposed improvements are crucial in order to provide access to resource development opportunities for northern BC companies, including goods and services now imported from Alberta that represent a market estimated at $2 billion annually.
“The removal of constraints that impede the flow of commercial traffic especially oversized loads which are of the utmost importance to the energy and mining industries will increase business opportunities for manufactures and equipment suppliers west of the Rockies,” stated Scott Gordon, Project Manager, Business Development Initiative, Energy Industry Services Association of BC. “Energy Services BC strongly supports these improvements to the Highway 97 corridor between Quesnel and Dawson Creek.”
Better access through the Pine Pass will provide substantial opportunities for several existing industries already located in the Quesnel – Dawson Creek Corridor that can expect to compete for new clients and markets for their goods and services in industry sectors such as metal fabricating, prefabricated buildings, oil and gas field machinery, mining services, and transportation and storage. Northern Development Chair Evan Saugstad, Mayor of Chetwynd, has seen firsthand how low bridge and rail overheads north and south of Chetwynd impact the flow of large loads to the mining and oil and gas sectors. “Our community brought the need for an economic assessment to the other communities across the northern region, who concurred that it was a vital study to assess the leakage of business to Alberta, that could be handled in BC with upgrades to Highway 97 and the Pine Pass.”
“These upgrades would be extremely beneficial for companies in the interior of BC who have previously been unable to competitively participate in the oil and gas industry in northeast BC,” said Bob Fedderly of Fedderly Transportation Ltd. in Fort St. John. “The proposed improvements would help level the playing field with companies in Alberta.” Another strong supporter of the proposed upgrades is Dan Schreiner, with the North Central Group of Companies in Prince George. “Upgrading these low overpasses and bridges in the Pine Pass will provide the North Central Group with competitive access to fabrication and pre-construction opportunities in the oil and gas sector in northeast BC.”
Map showing proposed bridges and overpasses to be upgraded
It is estimated that the Pine Pass improvements would cost approximately $135 million, an amount that can be recovered quickly, according to Northern Development Chief Executive Officer, Janine North. “We now have seen the technical work done by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and we understand that a $135 million dollar investment can have a cost benefit by capturing only .7 of 1% of the business currently being done by Alberta firms in BC in the oil and gas and forest industries, that’s miniscule. We can absolutely capture that back and see those improvements pay their way in terms of investment in BC.”
In terms of employment, .7 of 1% of market penetration would create eighty-four new full-time jobs and contribute to provincial tax revenue growth of $700,000 annually.
There would be many opportunities for northeast companies looking to expand their markets into the interior of British Columbia as well. “Greensmart Manufacturing would be able to bid competitively on large pre-manufactured structural building projects in the interior and northwest BC if the existing low clearance overpasses are upgraded as recommended,” said Greg Hammond, President, Greensmart Manufacturing Ltd. in Dawson Creek. “Currently, the majority of our opportunities for large projects are located in northeast BC and Alberta.”
Greensmart Manufacturing Ltd. designed portable classroom
Janine North, Chief Executive Officer of Northern Development notes that the studies provided an excellent opportunity for Northern Development and Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure staff to collaborate and share information as part of developing the business case for the proposed upgrades. “The proposed upgrades to the railway overhead crossings and bridges may not be as expensive or as difficult as first envisioned,” North says. “We understand technically there are some great fixes around lowering the highways under the raised rail crossings and we look forward to the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure being able to consider those ideas with her staff in the very near term.”
“I would like to acknowledge and thank Northern Development for their hard work in undertaking this economic assessment,” stated Minister Shirley Bond, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. “Ministry staff will carefully consider these recommendations as we undertake future improvements along this vital northern corridor. My staff and I look forward to working closely with the Northern Development to maximize the economic benefits along this route.”
MP Jay Hill, Prince George-Peace River has also expressed interest in this project.
Chief Executive Officer
Northern Development Initiative Trust
About Northern Development Initiative Trust
Northern Development Initiative Trust is an independent regional economic development corporation focused on stimulating economic growth and job creation in central and northern British Columbia. Over $85.8 million in funding has been committed to 471 projects with a total project value of over $457 million. For more information about Northern Development Initiative Trust, visit www.northerndevelopment.bc.ca.