The finishing touches on bringing complete cellular coverage to the Highway of Tears is about to begin.
With support from the federal and provincial governments, Rogers Communications said Wednesday it will begin work this spring on building 12 new cellular towers along Highway 16 West with the project scheduled for completion by October 2022.
The project will close 252 kilometres of the gaps remaining along the 720-kilometre stretch from Prince George to Prince Rupert as well as provide service at the Boulder Creek, Basalt Creek and Sanderson Point rest stops and will use 5G technology from Ericsson.
It's known as the Highway of Tears due to the number of women who have been murdered or gone missing along the stretch and adjacent routes over the decades.
Prince George Native Friendship Centre executive director Barb Ward-Burkitt welcomed the news that the project is going forward.
“We must continue to do everything in our power to prevent violence against Indigenous women and girls to ensure they are safe to travel anywhere in our province, but especially between communities along Highway 16,” she said in a statement.
The work will be concentrated in the remaining areas of weak signal strength between Prince Rupert and Smithers. The federal and provincial governments are contributing $4.5 million towards the $11.6-million project.
"As someone who uses this highway regularly and has been stranded once myself, I know how important this project is for the people who travel Highway 16," said North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice. "Not only will this project open up access to communities along this corridor, it will also make it much easier for emergency responders to react quickly when people need assistance."
In a separate statement, Telus said it was responsible for connecting more 500 kilometres of Highway 16 West to wireless over the last decade.
"Telus has also connected Prince George, Kitimat, Terrace, Fort St. John, Dawson Creek, Hudson’s Hope, Williams Lake, Quesnel, and Witset to the Telus PureFibre network, and has brought more Northern B.C. communities high-speed Internet and Optik TV," the company said.