The Coquihalla Route was important because the two-land traffic on the Highway 1 through the Fraser Canyon was reaching peak congestion. Because of geographic and geological constraints of that route (high, steep cliffs) there was not cost-effective way to increase capacity of that route.
The alternative was to build the Coquihalla as a 4-lane high speed shortcut through relatively empty ranching country, in a straight line between Hope and Kamloops. The route was explored in 1973, with an official survey conducted in 1978. The project design and construction was accelerated in preparation for Expo 86 in Vancouver. More than 10,000 people and 1,000 pieces of heavy equipment worked non-stop over the summer of 1985.
The route included construction of eight avalanche dams, 19 containment basins, two water diversion trenches, three sets of avalanche benches, and the massive Great Bear Snowshed, to protect the highway and travellers. The construction also included 38 bridge and overpass structures.
The Coquihalla (part of BC Highway 5) was completed in three phases, opening in 1986. The first phase of construction connected Hope to Merit (opened in 1986). The the second phase connected Merrit with Kamloops (completed in 1987), and the third phase, the Coquihalla Connector which linked Merritt to Peachland and the Okanagan (opened in 1990). The total cost of all three phases of the Coquihalla was $955 million.
This route significantly reduced travel time, and was originally opened as a toll-highway. Tolls on the highway started at $5 for motorcycles, $10 for cars and light trucks and up to $50 for trucks. By 2000, more than 29 million passenger vehicles had passed through the Coquihalla’s toll booths, when the tolls were removed.
Once the construction costs were recovered, the tolls were removed in 2008. The location of the former toll booth is 13 km (8.1 mi) north of the snow shed, passing through another interchange and the 1,244 m (4,081 ft) Coquihalla Pass. In 2016, 3.4 million trips are taken over the Coquihalla route each year (including 700,000 trips by commercial trucks).
Interestingly, the current Highway 5 is not the first highway in B.C. to have this designation. From 1941 to 1953, the section of present-day Highway 97 and Highway 97A between Osoyoos and Salmon Arm, was called Highway 5. In 1986, Highway 5 designation was applied to the route between Hope and Merritt.
The Coquihalla joins with the Trans-Canada Highway west of Kamloops, and they follow the same route from this point east to the bridge north across the Thompson. North of the bridge, which takes the #5 highway north, heading past the Sun Peaks Resort, and then on toward Jasper and Highway 16 (the Yellowhead Route). From the Highway 5 junction to the South Thomspon River Bridge, the Trans-Canada continues east on its own, following the gentle bends of the South Thompson River on a flat four-lane divided section which has lots of motels, retail and single family residential though the community of Valleyview.
Trans-Canada Highway Itinerary Map
Use mouse to drag/move map. Click on “+” or “–” to zoom in or out. “Satellite” combines map & photo.