VICTORIA – The B.C. government has unveiled a new $3-million plan to enhance transportation safety along the Highway 16 corridor from Prince Rupert to Prince George.
The plan consists of five actions the government will take to improve access to transportation services along the Highway 16 corridor and enable residents of First Nations communities and municipalities to travel safely to and from rural towns and villages along the corridor.
The five point action plan consists of:
* $1.6 million over 2 years for transit expansion: These new funds will be available on a cost-shared basis with local communities to extend or enhance BC Transit services to better connect communities.
* $750,000 over 3 years for a community transportation grant program to purchase and operate vehicles: These new funds will be available on a cost-shared basis with local communities to support community-based transportation programs operated by First Nations, local governments or non-profit organizations.
* $150,000 over 3 years for a First Nations driver education program: These new funds will build upon the current driver training/education program to increase the number of Class 4 and Class 5 drivers in First Nations communities along the Highway 16 corridor.
* $500,000 over 2 years for highway infrastructure safety improvements including webcams and transit shelters: These new funds will enable the ministry to increase the number of webcams on the highway and the frequency of photographs taken at these spots. New transit shelters will be built in communities that will be receiving new or expanded transit service.
* Collaboration to increase interconnectivity of services: The ministry will work to increase coordination of existing transportation services through BC Transit, Northern Health, not for profit organizations and private service providers including efforts to better synchronize schedules and expand user eligibility criteria.
The ministry has appointed a new nine-person Highway 16 Transportation Advisory Group to oversee implementation of the action plan and ensure that the actions address the input received at the transportation symposium. The advisory group will report to the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure and will be meeting over the months of January and February to review the specifics of the action plan and ensure it is implemented consistent with the input the ministry received at a recent transportation symposium held in Smithers.
Over the next couple of months, the ministry will work with the advisory group to develop a process for local communities and organizations to apply for all of the new funding. Once this work is complete, the ministry will reach out to First Nations communities and municipalities to let them know how they can apply for the grant funding. By partnering with municipalities, First Nations communities and organizations, the ministry is ensuring they are active participants with vested interest in selecting the transportation services that best meet local needs.
On Nov. 24, 2015, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and the First Nations Health Authority co-hosted a transportation symposium in Smithers to engage with First Nations leadership, community members and local government representatives to help identify safe, practical and sustainable transportation options for communities along the Highway 16 corridor. Over 90 participants attended the forum, which was a big step forward in creating a safer environment for people living in communities along the nearly 800 km stretch of highway between Prince Rupert and Prince George. The ideas, recommendations and feedback from the transportation symposium were used to develop the foundation of the $3-million action plan for the Highway 16 corridor.
Today’s announcement builds on the $5.2 million annual investment that the B.C. government makes towards transit services in communities along Highway 16, and is expected to connect communities not currently serviced by local transit service along the corridor.
The nine members of the advisory group
1. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (chair): Deborah Bowman, assistant deputy minister, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure
2. First Nations representative: Wanda Good, Deputy Chief Council,Gitanyow
3. First Nations representative: Reg Mueller, Saik’uz First Nation
4. First Nations Health Authority: Richard Jock, chief operating officer,First Nations Health Authority
5. Highway of Tears Initiative: Mary Teegee, Highway of Tears Initiative and executive director of child and family services at Carrier Sekani Family Services
6. Local government representative: Rob MacDougall, mayor of District of Fort St. James
7. Local government representative: Luke Strimbold, mayor of Burns Lake
8. Local government representative: Shane Brienen, mayor of Houston
9. Northern Health Authority: Penny Anguish, chief operating officer, North West and chief nurse executive