Fry needs to get out more often

Trans-Canada in B.C. has been a political sore point for decades

A chuckle almost turned into a belly laugh when I heard last week that Vancouver Centre Liberal MP Hedy Fry was going to take the issue of four-laning the Trans-Canada Highway in B.C. to a Liberal Party policy meeting.

Her concern came after she was caught in an nine-hour wait in Glacier National Park on Aug. 16, when a serious car crash closed the highway for most of the day.

Fry has been an MP for 20 years. The issue of four-laning the highway east of Kamloops has been a major political sore point for many B.C. and Alberta residents for at least that long. There have been signs erected along the highway, calling it the highway of death. There have been meetings, protests, letters to the editor — and even some modest improvements.

The federal and provincial governments, under the Liberals and Conservatives in Ottawa, and NDP and Liberals in Victoria, have committed money to improving some short stretches of the highway, but it is far from complete. There are major improvements east of Golden, and a new-four lane bridge over the Columbia River west of Golden.

But the stretch where Fry was stranded is a federal responsibility. It lies within a national park, and is almost unchanged from when the highway first opened in 1962. At that time, John Diefenbaker was prime minister, and he officiated at the opening of the highway through Glacier Park at a location near the Rogers Pass summit.

The snowsheds east of the pass are almost exactly as they were 50 years ago, and they are hazardous both summer and winter. They are either poorly-lit or not lit at all, and often icy in the winter.

I travelled the highway through Glacier National Park one week before Fry did, and made good time.

However, there are almost no services at Glacier Park. There is no longer a gas station and the only hotel seems to be closed. All that is available for rest stops are roadside pull-offs and the visitor centre.

The stretch of Highway 1 through Salmon Arm, where the highway becomes a city street, complete with stop lights, is particularly frustrating. There is no effort being made to get the highway out of the downtown area, and more development is being planned, which means traffic will move even more slowly.

When I heard of Fry’s concerns, I wondered how often she has actually travelled in the B.C. interior by road. She is probably like many Vancouverites — the only roads they really know well are Granville and Oak Streets, which speed them to the Vancouver International Airport.

Fry was a member of the federal cabinet under prime ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, yet seems incredulous that Highway 1 is in such poor condition. Perhaps the fact that the Liberals have had no representation from the B.C. Interior for generations is part of her problem.

She needs to get out a little more often.