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.

Page 1 of 43 comments on “How Well Do You Know the Coquihalla?”

Leave a Reply to Robert Gordon Cancel reply

    • Hello Greg. Thanks for your comment. There are remnants of a few structures which might be visible along this stretch: Avalanche bunkers – where avalanche techs might have set up and used older military style explosives to trigger avalanches in the area; avalanche benches – which are installed to stop the flow of snow onto the highway; or there is also the remnants of an old telecommunications gondola, which carried service workers up to the peak of Dog Mountain “back in the day”. Without knowing exactly the location you are referring to exactly, we would guess that one of these is what you’ve seen. We hope that this is helpful. Safe travels.

      Reply
  1. Ran it opening day may long weekend in 86 no signs for brake check at top of smasher it was quite the ride coming over the top at 100 km apparently motor ways put 6 in the runaway lanes that week so I was told

    Reply
    • Hi there Cass – thanks for your question. There is an installation of concrete blocks along the highway placed there to block avalanche flow. Without knowing exactly the location you are referring to exactly, we would guess that is what you’ve seen. Safe travels.

      Reply
    • The round concrete blocks your referring too are at the widened breaks in the highway barriers where the Military used to pull off and set up and shoot up into the snow packed mountains for avalanche control.

      Now they just drop bombs from the helicopters in the exact location of the avalanche hazard.

      Reply
  2. Good info, glad I don’t have to drive it this winter (no tourists or school trips!)
    In the line “The Coquihalla averages 1,350mm of precipitation of which 1,150mm falls as snow,” below the graph, you might want to change the units of measure. It should be cm, not mm. 1,150mm is a measly 1 meter and 15 cm 🙂

    Cheers

    Peter

    Reply
    • Hi there Peter,

      Thanks for your message. We reached out to our weather and avalanche group for clarification and they let us know that the issue is the difference between measurement of precipitation and snowfall. Precip is the water equivalent of the accumulated snowfall plus the amount of any rainfall, measured in mm. So when we said 1150 mm falls as snow, then that’s the water equivalent of the snow. Rule of thumb conversion from water equivalent to snowfall is about 10:1, so that would have been approximately 1150 cm of snow, but we were talking precipitation, not snow depth. Hope that this information is helpful.

      Reply
  3. 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.

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  4. 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

    Reply
  5. 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!

    Reply
  6. 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.

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  7. 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?

    Reply
  8. 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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
      • 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

        Reply
  9. 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.

    Reply
  10. 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.

    Reply