The B.C. government announced a $3-million plan to improve safety measures along Highway 16 from Prince George to Prince Rupert.
The five-point action plan aims to improve access to transportation services along the highway corrider also known as “The Highway of Tears” for the 19 women who have been confirmed murdered or missing by the RCMP.
Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone said “There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to addressing the challenges along the corridor and this action plan provides flexibility for communities to determine how to best apply new funding to meet their specific needs.”
The plan will include $1.6-million over two years to expand BC Transit services; $750,000 over three years for a community transportation grant program to be operated by First Nations, local governments and non-profit groups; $150,000 over three years to create a First Nations driver education program; $500,000 over two years to improve infrustructure along the highway with webcams and transit shelters; and a collaboration effort with BC Transit, Northern Health, non-profit organizations and private transport providers to synchronize schedules.
A nine-person Highway 16 Transportation Advisory Group will implement the strategy and create a process for local communities to apply for grant funding. In January and February the Ministry of Transportation will meet with the advisory group to fine-tune the plan.
The government’s proposal has been met with some skepticism. North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice said in an email, “This is a first step, but only a real solution if followed by other significant steps such as stable sustainable funding for reliable public transport. Even after this announcement, it is still a patchwork solution but given how this government has dragged its heels for years and even deleted records about the Highway of Tears, I’m really glad to finally see some steps being taken to a solution.”
Rice is concerned that the announment makes funding commitments for two or three years but northern communities need a yearly commitment.
She also critiques the plan to improve technology with webcams.
“While I support investing in technology, providing continuous cell coverage along the Highway 16 corridor from Prince Rupert to Prince George is a far more superior technology investment as far as safety is concerned. That is something I, and many of my constituents would like to see,” Rice said.
The leader of the B.C. Conservative party, Dan Brooks, is concerned that the plan is to share costs with financially struggling communities. In a press release Brooks said it was a “pathetic funding announcement” and “another example of northern neglect.”
The five-points plan was developed after the Ministry of Transporation and the First Nations Health Authority held a transportation symposium in Smithers on Nov. 24. The foundations of the plan were based on feedback and recommendations from participants.
The regional chief for the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, Shane Gottfriedson, was encouraged by the action plan to improve safety and security.
“As the national lead for murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, I am heartened to hear of this important first step to take action on the safety and transportation for our brothers and sisters of the north,” he said.