Proponents of a plan to build a three-metre wide, hard surface, multi-use trail connecting Smithers and Telkwa expect the first of three phases to be ready for use by September.
Bids are now being sought for the 3.5 kilometres of Phase 1 which will generally follow the Hwy 16 right of way adjacent to the eastbound lane from the bridge crossing the Bulkley River just east of Smithers up the hill and along the flat to Laidlaw Road close to the Old Babine Lake Road turnoff.
“By being out early we’re hoping to get some attractive bids,” said Allan Cormier president of the Cycle 16 Trail Society, the 1100-member plus group which began promoting a multi-use connection between the two communities in 2016.
Although the society has been very active in raising money, the funding for the first phase was realized last year with a $1.47 million federal-provincial grant.
Bids close the first week of March and Cormier is optimistic of an early June construction start.
Cormier said the society fully expects the bids will come back within allocated finances so that it can be paved.
The pathway will be owned by the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako which has been a keen backer and financial supporter of the project. Also lending a hand has been the provincial transportation ministry.
Cormier said the full length pathway of 12 kilometres, envisoned to end at Eddy Park in Telkwa, will appeal to recreational users as well as offering cyclists and others an accessible non-motorized commute.
“What we heard the most from our survey, the number one reason, is that people wanted a safe route,” he said when the society sounded out public opinion.
Among the supporters for a segregated pathway have been commercial truck drivers and logging truck drivers, Cormier noted.
“They want to see people off the highway. It’ll cause a lot less stress for them,” he said.
With construction of the first phase planned for this year, the society is now turning its attention to the second phase of 3.6 kilometres which will take the pathway to the highway rest stop between Donaldson Road and Raymond Road.
This section will feature something completely new to Hwy 16 in the northwest — an underpass for a safe passage connection to a stretch of road that was once part of the highway until a project in that area eliminated a hazardous turn.
“We’ll be using as much of that old highway as we can,” said Cormier.
The concept plan cost for this second section has been completed and detailed design drawings are next. Those will cost $140,000 and the society has now focused on raising the money.
“We’re very optimistic the momentum [of Phase 1 construction] will really help us with the next phase of the project,” Cormier added.
Total cost of the pathway is estimated at $7 million.
The pathway project is unique along Hwy 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George.
It’s officially a three-season trail for spring, summer and fall but Cormier says the society anticipates it will be used year-round.
A close equivalent is perhaps the City of Terrace’s Grand Trunk Pathway that runs parallel to Hwy 16 heading west of the city, said Cormier.
A final connection of this pathway to the Kalum River Bridge right before the village of Kitsumkalum is planned for construction this year.