UPDATE: 4:35 p.m.
After engaging with a project team to review options for the Highway 97 and Highway 3A intersection near Kaleden, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has approved a protected turning lane for the area.
In a statement from MOTI, they explained that the lane was found to be the best option for both safety and constructability.
Following November’s atmospheric river event, this intersection saw a significant increase in traffic related to the closure of Highway 5. The ministry began a review after residents and local politicians raised awareness of ongoing traffic issues.
"The project team is moving ahead on detailed design for this improvement, during which consultation with key stakeholders will take place, including local emergency services and first responders. The ministry has begun consultation with Penticton Indian Band," MOTI said.
"Great news from MOTI for the junction of 3A and 97," Subrina Monteith, area director for Kaleden shared.
The lane will be subject to final funding approval and results of engagement and consultations, but the construction on the improvement could go ahead as early as this summer.
"I’m feeling really pleased that the Ministry has been agile and responsive to the concerns raised by the community, especially given what they’ve been navigating across the province in the last couple of months," Boundary Similkameen MLA Roly Russell added.
ORIGINAL: 4 a.m.
Nearly 4000 people have signed a petition demanding improvements to traffic safety for the intersection of Highway 97 at 3A to Keremeos, and the exit to Kaleden, which saw two major crashes snarl traffic on Monday and another hit on Tuesday.
Residents have long been voicing concern over the road from Penticton to Okanagan Falls, but felt accidents spiked when the highway became one of the main routes from the Interior to the Lower Mainland.
Subrina Monteith, area director for Kaleden, has been trying to get action from the Ministry of Transportation and is seeing that come to fruition working alongside Boundary Similkameen MLA Roly Russell.
“People don't feel safe driving along that side of the highway. There's many, many close calls and people are feeling like there needs to be change. It's time that sections of Highway 97, and the junction of Highway 3A be addressed,” Monteith said.
Russell’s experience with the community conversation has been similar, seeing multiple points along that relatively short stretch of highway where people felt unsafe.
“There's no doubt in my mind that it's a big issue in that area.”
MOTI spoke on how they are working on finding a solution for the area, whether it be temporary or permanent in a meeting with the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen in December. The ministry has had their hands full the past few months working on fixing major highways throughout BC after the flooding events in November.
Counts were set up along Highway 97, along with studies for options to improve intersection safety.
“MOTI did agree to expedite the kind of long term solutions study for that stretch and we've been in pretty close contact over it for months now to be honest,” Russell explained. “Things are moving forward and I'm feeling optimistic and confident that MOTI recognizes the urgency of seeing some longer term, permanent improvements to that stretch.”
“I understand they've been doing a study, they've been monitoring the traffic levels, which is great, especially now that Highway 3 has reopened, but there is still a lot of traffic year round. So making sure that it's safe is for sure a priority,” Monteith added.
Some suggestions gathering support from the community is to create a southbound fast lane into a left turn only lane along the stretch, along with lower speeds.
Monteith emphasized that these changes need to happen immediately.
“We need to make sure that we are safe year round, especially with this area being very high in tourism. We get a lot of motorhomes and tourists that are not familiar with the roads, but then you add locals who are in a hurry to get to work, we're setting up for disaster,”
Both representatives feel that MOTI is hearing their concerns and will be meeting together to discuss changes on Friday.
“So it's been a lot of great conversations, but now it's time to meet and make sure that we're all going in the right direction with that change.”