By Keith Norbury

The B.C. government still wasn’t ready in mid-September to announce its approval of a project cargo corridor for pre-approved loads of up to 125 tonnes. “Regarding the 125-tonne corridors and the pre-approval system, the Ministry has been working on initial phases of this program since we last spoke in May and at this time, we are not yet prepared to make an announcement until our plan is in place,” a spokesperson with B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said by email Sept. 15.

Doug Mills of Port Metro Vancouver, who is part of an ad hoc project cargo working group that has been working with the province on developing the corridor, said in a recent interview that he was hoping the province would make an official announcement in time for the Breakbulk Americas conference in Houston in early October. “In advance of the breakbulk conference, we’re requested some form of official notification,” said Mr. Mills, who is the Port’s Senior Account Representative for bulk and breakbulk cargo. That notification could be in the form of a Ministerial announcement or a letter, he said.

The Ministry’s most recent email said there is no timeline for an announcement. “So far, Highways 1, 5, 16 and 97 have been identified as possible corridors, but it’s too early to say which of these will ultimately be approved,” the email said. The spokesperson also reiterated what the Ministry said in late May: that initial work was being done to connect the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert to northeastern B.C.

Mr. Mills pointed out that the government, on its B.C. on the Move website, has already committed to establishing 125-tonne corridors. “So all we’re trying to do is get them to say is, yes, phase 1 will be open Dec. 31,” he said. Second and subsequent phases, which would identify other routes, would be completed next year, Mr. Mills said.

One of the remaining questions marks is the height restriction on the phase 1 corridor. Ideally, the project cargo working group would like to be able to move loads of up to 4.88 metres high. However, details on detouring around a couple of pinch points on the route have yet to be worked out, he said. At present, the route can accommodate loads up to 4.3 metres high and five metres wide. The working group is hoping that the pre-approval system will also allow for loads up to 55 metres long.

Some of the pinch points are well-known, such as the Great Bear show shed on the Coquihalla Highway and a pair of railway overpasses at the junction of highways 5 and 16 near Tête-Jaune Cache. The snow shed has a maximum northbound clearance of 5.01 metres, according to a height clearance tool on the DriveBC website. The Tête-Jaune Cache overpasses have clearances of 4.88 metres. (The height clearance tool uses Google Maps technology to generate the shortest distance between points and displays structures that are too low or narrow for the dimensions entered into the tool. Users of the tool can then manually alter the route to avoid those structures or other hazards, the Ministry said.)Eventually, it might be possible to detour around the snow shed by using resource roads, such as logging roads, Mr. Mills said. “But that’s a longer term assessment because they’d obviously have to be engineered.”

In May, the Ministry confirmed that it has identified the need to upgrade major bridges on highways 5 (the Coquihalla), 16, and 97. The Ministry was then in the preliminary stages of that assessment and said it would announce specifics, including estimated costs, at a later date. Representatives of the Ministry’s Pacific Gateway and Commercial Vehicle Safety Enforcement branches have attended project cargo working group meetings as observers, the Ministry noted. The working group includes representation from Port Metro Vancouver, its two breakbulk terminals, and the B.C. Trucking Association.

A key feature of the pre-approval system is that will be automated and online, enabling shippers to apply for approval 24 hours a day and seven days a week, Mr. Mill said. Approvals will be granted within 48 hours if the truck-trailer configuration for a given route matches one that has already been engineered and received permits from the province. “So we’ve done the engineering in advance,” Mr. Mills said. “In the past, you had to go and redo all the engineering and the information gained from those reports was not retained because they were proprietary.”

The new system will retain that information, which would include what weight and load dimensions a certain bridge can accommodate, for example. “The work that’s underway right now is basically going through all the proposed routes, ensuring that the configurations that we have can get through the snow sheds, the tunnels, and over the bridges,” Mr. Mills said.

The Ministry confirmed in May that a new EnRouteBC system will provide truckers with “the ability to obtain permits 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no wait times.” A route planner, launched in 2014, is an initial phase of the EnRouteBC system. The full system was still being finalized.

In some cases, Mr. Mills said, the province still has to negotiate with municipal governments to allow detours around highway overpasses on the Lower Mainland. Mr. Mills declined to say which municipalities are involved because negotiations were still ongoing.

A study commissioned by the project cargo working group determined that 80 per cent of the project cargo destined for major resource projects can be handled through Port Metro Vancouver. “Effectively we’re moving large components now,” Mr. Mills said, noting that project cargo recently travelled across B.C. to a cement plant in the Canmore area west of Calgary. “All we need is for this corridor to solidify what we know to be possible already,” Mr. Mills said. “The big issue is (that) when a proponent goes to look to move a piece of cargo, the current system creates too much uncertainty and it costs too much time and money to get appropriate approvals.”

The Ministry said in May that processing time for heavy and large loads currently averages six days, with 95 per cent completed within 13 calendar days. That compares with up to 30 days in some U.S. jurisdictions, the Ministry said. However, the Ministry added that “exceptionally heavy loads requiring independent bridge crossing analysis may take longer.” The Ministry added that where an identical combination of axle group weights has been previously approved for a particular route, the processing time is no more than three business days, “with many turned around the same day.”