Major work on the Highway 29 corridor that runs along the north side of the Peace River in northeastern B.C. is progressing according to plan, with several projects at various stages of construction.
The paved, two-lane road connects the community of Hudson’s Hope with the Alaska Highway and Fort St. John. The highway is being realigned in areas to accommodate the expansion of the Peace River which will widen and cover parts of the existing highway if the Site C reservoir begins filling as planned in 2023.
David Conway, community relations manager for the Site C project, says work continues on four of the five separate projects along the route despite the workforce being reduced due to COVID-19 restrictions. The fifth project on the route is on temporary winter shutdown and slated to resume soon.
The highway work started in 2018 and is expected to continue until mid-2023. It involves building 32 kilometres of highway, including new bridges at Cache Creek, Halfway River, Lynx Creek, Dry Creek and Farrell Creek.
“For the Cache Creek alignment, the contractor is currently working on the detour bridge, pile testing and various drainage works,” says Conway.
To install piles for the temporary detour and bridge, the contractor must drill into the bedrock. Steel pile casings are then installed and filled with concrete.
Major work continues further down the highway at Halfway River and at Farrell Creek East and Lynx Creek.
“At the Halfway River realignment, the contractor is constructing the bridge, including the installation of bridge girders,” says Conway.
A 1,042-metre-long bridge is being built over Halfway River. Presently, crews are working on construction of bridge abutments and installation of rebar, formwork and concrete. Workers there are also receiving and installing steel bridge girders which are being lifted into place using two large cranes.
At the Farrell Creek alignment, where a new bridge and highway section are being built, the contractor is currently building the bridge foundations and installing bridge piles by drilling into the bedrock, says Conway. Workers are also building berms for the bridge foundations and processing and stockpiling aggregate.
At the Lynx Creek site, the contractor is currently undertaking grading work. Crews are also clearing, grubbing and stripping work areas and building access roads and moving the hydro distribution line, he says.
The contractor at the Dry Creek alignment project is currently on winter shutdown.
Conway says crews also continue to work on upstream and downstream cofferdams that have been installed across the Peace River. Interlocking steep pile walls have been completed and heavy equipment operators are now building up the cofferdams which will eventually be about six storeys tall.
“Work is continuing on the placement of materials to build up the elevation of the cofferdams,” he says, noting pumping water from between the cofferdams is already underway. “Once the dewatering is competed, we will excavate the existing materials, then establish the core trench and grouting of the foundation.”
The Peace River has been diverted through two large diversion tunnels approximately 750 metres long and 11 metres in diameter to allow construction of the cofferdams.
On the Site C project itself, meanwhile, Conway says crews are working on underground drainage features as well as in-river and approach channel excavation. Powerhouse construction is continuing and components and materials for the turbines and generators are being delivered to the site for storage.
Construction of a 2.6-kilometre-long berm to protect the shoreline of Hudson’s Hope is also underway. Site prep work has started and riprap is being delivered to place in the river to build the berm.
Conway notes COVID-19 has had an impact on the project, as steps had to be taken to reduce the workforce. Latest figures show there were 1,025 workers in camp as of Feb. 4, down from nearly 5,000 in November.
Latest figures show since March 2020 BC Hydro has been notified of 45 positive cases of COVID-19 related to people working on the project.
“We’ve been continuously adjusting our workforce to align with guidelines and directives issued by government and health authorities,” says Conway. “We are committed to implementing all components of the new Provincial Health Order for industrial camps. We have been working closely with health officials on a safe and staged plan to slowly increase the number of people working on the project.
“We understand the rationale for the order, and we will continue to put the health and safety of our employees, workers and the nearby communities first.”
The fate of the Site C project has been the subject of much speculation lately and B.C. Premier John Horgan and his cabinet are currently assessing the project after receiving an independent report on the matter.
The cost of the dam has ballooned over the years. It was originally pegged at $6.6 billion in a 2007 feasibility study and the latest report estimates the project will cost $12 billion to complete.
Conway says BC Hydro is currently working on finalizing a “re-baselining plan” which consists of a review of the project cost and time required to complete all remaining work on Site C, including work on Highway 29.