Kelowna's long awaited second crossing could be here in only eight years.
Thats according to BC's Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone who says the second crossing project is currently in the second phase of planning.
“A project of this size typically takes about a decade from beginning to end. Now, we are in year one or two already so theoretically we could see a second crossing in another eight years or so,” says Stone.
“We've got at least 6 to 12 months here of just getting out and talking to everybody in this region and asking 'What do you think about this second crossing? And 'Where do you think it should be?'”
Stone says the government is committed to spending millions of dollars in the Okanagan improving our roads. This will include their ongoing work widening Hwy. 97 from Lake Country through Kelowna to the bridge but he says the big project is that second crossing.
“The second crossing represents the single largest capital investment that we will be making in the Okanagan over the next 10 years,” says Stone. “There are a lot of things to consider. Do we do road work on either side of the new bridge, or is it just a bridge, or is it a bypass around West Kelowna that bypasses Peachland as well. Are we doing six lanes through West Kelowna?”
Phase two will be completed within the year and then the next phase will be narrowing down the cost of the project and finding out where the money is coming from.
Stone says they need to consider whether the project will be either publicly funded, a private-public partnership or funded by tolls on the bridge. But before all that, there is a lot of work to do.
During his meeting with the Greater Westside Board of Trade the second crossing wasn't the only hot topic.
Stone was grilled about intersections like Hudson and Hwy. 97, and Boucherie and Hwy. 97 where whispers of overpasses have been heard for years. Stone says at this point there is no plan in place for either.
“It is really hard to say because a key consideration is what is on either side of those intersections and what is going to happen with a second crossing.”
Another talking point was Wednesday's announcement that the BC Government is increasing speed limits on several sections a BC highway, a decision that received no support from RCMP or the trucking association. Stone says although they respect their opinions they still feel it is the right course of action.
“They have come to a different conclusion I think quite sincerely in terms of what they believe should be done with speed limits and we respect that. But, on balance, the technical analysis and safety analysis we have done through the ministry and looking at a growing body of evidence around North America we feel the changes in speed limits we are making are the right thing to do to make our highways as safe as possible,” defends Stone.
He notes that only 15 per cent of BC's rural highways are being changed. Of the 47,000 kilometres of highway in our province, 9,100 kilometres were considered for potential change and only 1,300 kilometres are being changed.
“It is only a small amount that is being changed and for the most part it is highways like the Coquihalla that are beautifully engineered four-lane highways that can absolutely handle an additional 10 km/h speed limit increase,” says Stone.
The other major local announcement was that the government will fund a $5 million barrier for the highway between Oyama and Vernon. Stone says he is aware of the “killer highway” and the government had to act.
“We are absolutely familiar that there have been a number of fatalities on that stretch and one very recently so that is why we announced Wednesday that while the speed limit on that entire corridor is going to go up, that will only happen after we have first installed the median barrier along that entire stretch that doesn't exist there today,” says Stone.
He says the increasing volume of traffic in the area was also part of the reason. With an average of 20,000 vehicles per day using that corridor, a number increasing every month.
“We are seeing an increasing number of cross-over collisions or head-on collisions. So considering those two things it is a pretty compelling case for installing a median barrier to keep motorists that much safer.”