How Well Do You Know the Coquihalla?

Coquihalla Highway

The Coquihalla is one of the most popular highway mountain passes in BC. You’ve probably driven it a few times, whether as a commuter or a BC traveller, or TONS of times as a commercial driver. But how well do you know this stretch of highway?

GENERAL

  • The length of the Coquihalla, per construction phase:
    • Phase 1 from Hope to Merritt: 110km
    • Phase 2 from Merritt to Kamloops: 87km
    • Phase 3 from Merritt to Kelowna: 127km
  • The Coq starts near sea level at Hope and then gains over a kilometre in elevation in less than 50km distance.
  • Travel time savings:
    • vs. the old Highway 3 Route – from Kelowna area you save approximately 70km of travel or/and an 1h30mins
    • vs the old Fraser Canyon Route – from the Kamloops (and Trans Canada) way you save approximately 70km and 1h10mins
  • Coquihalla Opening:
    • Phase 1 opened in May 1986 (Hope to Merritt)
    • Phase 2 was completed on Sept 4, 1987 (Merritt to Kamloops)
    • Phase 3 was completed on Oct 1, 1990 (The Coquihalla Connector from Merritt to West Kelowna )
  • Highest elevations:
    • Coquihalla summit: 1,244 m
    • Surrey Lake summit: 1,444 m
  • Named the Coquihalla because it generally follows the Coquihalla River and uses the Coquihalla Pass
  • The small signs in the shape of old steam locomotives, with Shakespearean names, along the highway are there to commemorate the approximate locations of the Kettle Valley Railway

WINTER

coquihalla elevation graph

  • Since the winter of 1990/1991, in regards to avalanche closures…
    • Less than one closure per year due to avalanche hazard, specifically .96 per year over 25 years
    • 13 out of the last 25 years had no closures due to avalanche hazard.
    • Of all the 24 avalanche closures, 11 were under 2 hours
  • The Coquihalla averages 1,350mm of precipitation of which 1,150mm falls as snow.
  • The annual average peak snowpack (depth of snow on the ground) is 235cm at the summit.
  • There are many “tools” engineered into the design of the Coquihalla Highway to reduce the likelihood of avalanches affecting the route, which is why the Coquihalla sees less frequent closures for avalanche hazard and avalanche control than many other mountain passes in the province. These defenses include:
    • Road alignment designed to use Boston Bar creek as a natural catchment area.
    • Ten earth structures (stopping dams and mounds) which you probably wouldn’t notice because they are now covered with vegetation.
    • There is also one concrete stopping wall and one snow shed.
  • Winter maintenance:
    • Average amount of winter abrasive used yearly: 40,000 m3
    • Average amount of anti-icing liquid used yearly: 3 million litres.
    • During storm events, in addition to other equipment and snow plows VSA maintenance uses 3 tow plows which can clear two lanes at a time. Two of these plows spend 100% of their time on the Coquihalla from Hope to Kamloops.
  • The top 3 reasons for closures on the Coquihalla (in order of time spent) are
    • Vehicle incidents (such as stalls, vehicle fires, trucks spinning out, etc.)
    • Collisions (when a vehicle crashes into something) and the subsequent investigation and clean up
    • High avalanche hazards

TRAFFIC

coquihalla traffic graph

  • Highest daily volume for traffic:
    • BC day long weekend (29,114 on August 1, 2014)
    • Percent of that truck traffic: 22%
  • Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT): 10,569
  • 3.3 million Annual VKT/km (VKT/km represents the annual vehicle kilometres travelled, divided by the length of the roadway)
  • Busiest traffic month: August (based on 2012 stats)
  • The Coquihalla has twice or more the volume of traffic compared to any other highway that crosses a mountain path in BC. (based on 2012 stats)
  • From 2004 to 2010
    • Truck traffic increased 6%
    • Personal vehicle traffic increased 5%

We hope that answered some questions or piqued your curiosity around the Coq. It’s an interesting stretch of highway that comes with its unique challenges but our district staff and maintenance contractors will continue to monitor the Coquihalla and keep you moving as efficiently and as safely as possible.

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29 Responses to How Well Do You Know the Coquihalla?

  1. Scott Rains on April 14, 2019 at 9:19 pm

    Do you guys know the annual snowfall for Thar peak? I know you said 235cm snowpack but I doesn’t specify how much snow actually falls annually.

    • tranbceditor on April 16, 2019 at 11:46 am

      Hi Scott,

      Our local avalanche staff has let us know that while we don’t have a weather station there, we do have the following info to share:
      1. There isn’t actually a single number to answer the question, because freezing levels very so much in the mountains around the Coquihalla.
      2. At road level (1220m), we receive annually an average of about 1150cm of snowfall (235cm average snowpack). This year we were way below average, receiving only 674cm of snowfall.
      3. At ridgetop (1660m) our average is 1850cm of snowfall, and this year we only received 1269cm.

      Hope that this helps!

  2. Neil O'Connor on November 1, 2018 at 9:33 am

    Does an agency record statistics for the number of highway road closures per year?

  3. Bruce on October 2, 2018 at 6:23 am

    Could you tell me what the annual accident statistics are for the last five years?

  4. Emmanuelle on August 2, 2018 at 3:28 pm

    I have not been able to find information on Surrey Lake Summit on the website. I was wondering if you had the information on the percent grade climbing up Surrey Lake Summit. Also I read that Surrey Lake Summit was formerly known as Clapperton Creek Summit. I was hoping you could either confirm or deny this. Any information would be very helpful.

    Thank you

    • tranbceditor on August 2, 2018 at 3:40 pm

      Hi Emmanuelle,

      We are looking into this for you. Stay tuned.

  5. Sarah on July 31, 2018 at 4:29 pm

    Is it true Surrey Lake Summit was formerly called Clapperton Lake Summit? Why the change? (I found the info on Wikipedia, but no explanation)

    Also if the steepest part of the Coquihalla between Hope to Merritt is the “Smasher”, is there an equivalent between Merritt and Kamloops? And what is the % gradient?

    Thank you!

    • tranbceditor on August 2, 2018 at 3:40 pm

      Hi Sarah,
      We are looking into this for you. Stay tuned.

  6. B on February 28, 2018 at 9:30 am

    Hello,

    Could you provide on how many times the Coquihalla has been closed during the winter months and whether that closure was due to an incident (i.e. an accident) or some other factor? Number of closures for the last 10 years would be sufficient.

    Thank you.

    • tranbceditor on March 1, 2018 at 2:43 pm

      Hello Barinder,

      We have the information but it is in a graph format and this platform won’t support graphics in the comments. We have sent you an email instead. Hope that this helps!

  7. Fayne on September 24, 2016 at 6:02 pm

    What are the bunker looking things on the side of the highway?

    • tranbceditor on September 26, 2016 at 11:16 am

      Hi Fayne,

      What you see are likely the old avalanche howitzer guns and bases that are roadside within avalanche paths. We used to use the guns for avalanche control in the area, but the ministry now use helicopters to detonate explosives and trigger controlled avalanches. Here’s a blog we wrote about our avalanche program and with a video of an controlled avalanche completed using a helicopter: http://tranbc.ca/2016/03/24/what-its-like-to-watch-an-avalanche-from-a-helicopter/

  8. Brian Vachon on April 17, 2016 at 3:51 am

    I do not see a lot of information about bicycles on the highway. I plan on riding van to Calgary in June 2016.
    Do you have information to supply?

    • tranbceditor on April 18, 2016 at 9:34 am

      Hi Brian,

      There are some portions of the Coquihalla where cycling is prohibited. Here is a link with more information on BC highways and cycling restrictions: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/transportation/driving-and-cycling/cycling/cycling-regulations-restrictions-rules

      Hope this helps!

      • David Hoffer on February 20, 2017 at 5:59 pm

        The government website you provide states that the entire Coquihalla highway (i.e., Hope to Kamloops) is restricted. But that’s not the entire story because there are signs on the highway directing bicyclists, so clearly it can be used. How confusing! Can you guys find out the answer to Brian’s question? I would like to know, too.

        • tranbceditor on February 21, 2017 at 11:08 am

          Hello David,

          We have sent this question forward to the area operations manager for review. Stay tuned.

  9. Claire Hatch on January 8, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    When can you count on there being no more snow on the Coq? Sometime in March?

    Thank you,

    Claire

    • tranbceditor on January 12, 2016 at 11:26 am

      Hi Claire,

      Snow can fall on high mountain passes in BC, such as the Coquihalla, well into the spring and occasionally into the summer. Winter tires are required on high mountain passes in BC until March 31st at the least. We recommend that you check DriveBC before you travel, specifically the webcams, to get an idea of snow levels along the route. Here is a website with more information about winter tires and where they are required in BC: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/transportation/driving-and-cycling/driving/traveller-information/seasonal/winter-driving/winter-tires-and-chains. Our BC HighwayCams also have a weather feature on each cam which will give you an idea of forecasted weather along the route. Hope that this helps.

      • Claire Hatch on January 15, 2016 at 12:25 pm

        Very helpful, thank you!

  10. Robert Gordon on July 22, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    Thanks.

    Please feel free to delete my original post if you wish.

    Bob

  11. Robert Gordon on July 19, 2015 at 8:58 pm

    I am puzzled by the statistic “Annual vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT): 3.3 million” which appears in the page about the Coquihalla. I saw this in the Vancouver Province this morning and wondered if it could be true – it was easy to trace it to this web page.

    I note that you give average daily traffic at 10,569 which works out to 3.9 million trips per year. If the total distance travelled is 3.3 million km, this works out to less than 1 km per trip. Unless my logic is incorrect, something is wrong here.

    To get a comparison I went to easily available statistics from Alberta

    http://www.transportation.alberta.ca/Content/docType181/production/LinkTrafficVolumeVehicleClassTravelESAL2014.pdf

    which shows MVKM (Million Vehicle Kilometres) for many highway segments. The numbers are in general much higher than the corresponding 3.3 million KM quoted for the Coquihalla.

    I would appreciate your clarification of this statistic.

    Cordially,

    Bob Gordon
    Vancouver

    • tranbceditor on July 22, 2015 at 8:48 am

      Hi Robert,

      We are looking into this for you.

    • tranbceditor on July 27, 2015 at 4:22 pm

      Hi Robert,

      Thanks for bringing this to our attention. The original statistic should have read 3.3 million annual VKT/km, instead of 3.3 million annual VKT. VKT/km represents the annual VKT divided by the length of the roadway, and provides a good relative indicator of the average intensity of usage over the length of each highway. Hope that this helps.

      • Robert Gordon on July 30, 2015 at 9:44 pm

        Thanks for the explanation.

        I think that publishing the annual VKT would be more meaningful to the general public. Also the total trips in addition to the average per day – these are impressive numbers showing the importance of the Coquihalla to travellers in BC.

        Best wishes

        Bob

        • tranbceditor on July 31, 2015 at 9:27 am

          Appreciate the suggestion. Thanks for reading.

  12. Alan Campbell on March 22, 2015 at 1:21 am

    I have driven the highway dozens of times, the majority being 97C, but lots to Vancouver too. It’s a fine highway. But being its a high mountain road, you have to be prepared and drive to the conditions. NO highway should be demonized because of the idiots who don’t know what they are doing. Too much horsepower with too little brains.

  13. Trish on March 16, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    It was a mistake to take the toll off the Coquihalla hwy. Reinstate the toll to pay for highway maintenance; any $$ not used on the Coq. can be used for maintenance on other BC highways.

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