Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone announced $2 million in new provincial and federal funding for the now $5-million Highway 16 Transportation Action Plan last Wednesday.
The highlight of the announcement was a new public transit system for Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George, long-dubbed the Highway of Tears following decades of missing or murdered women along the 718-kilometre route.
B.C. Transit and local governments along Highway 16 have signed 16 Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) to move forward with new transit routes for the corridor. With local government support, the B.C. Transit service will be put in place from Prince George to Prince Rupert. B.C. Transit aims to have the first buses in service by the end of the year.
In addition, the ministry committed to installing transit shelters where the new routes will be put in place and install three new webcams in the Smithers area and will be activating four more webcams along the highway by the spring 2017.
“We want to see northern communities connected with safe, reliable, and accessible transportation options, in particular providing better and safer options for women and teenage girls. There are five different components to this plan, which complement each other to support safer public transport in First Nations communities and municipalities in the north. The advisory group has been working diligently on implementation plans, and today we are actively moving forward on all five steps in a significant way,” Stone said.
While welcoming the announcement, North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice said the provincial government’s decision was long overdue.
“The implementation of a bus system along Highway 16 is an idea that has been recommended by various groups for years, including the Wally Oppal Commission in 2012 and the Highway of Tears Symposium in 2006,” Rice said in a statement released following the announcement.
“While I am happy that women along Highway 16 are finally going to have safe and affordable transportation to get them to and from appointments, work, school, shopping and family gatherings, I am also frustrated that it took this government so long to implement this solution.
“Although we cannot bring back the murdered and we have yet to solve the mysteries of the missing, this can be considered a win for communities along the Highway of Tears.”
Highway of Tears advocate, Brenda Wilson, sister of Ramona Wilson, who was 16 years old when her family last saw her at home in Smithers on June 11,1994, was pleased with the announcement.
“I have spent many years advocating for improved transportation along the Highway 16 corridor. The funding and transportation services that the government is providing will have a positive impact on First Nations people living along the Highway 16 corridor,” she said.
“I’d like to thank the advisory group and everyone else who provided direction and input on these changes; it has taken a lot of time and effort that is welcomed and appreciated.”