'That place is deadly': Pressure grows on province to make safety improvements to Highway 97 intersection

'That place is deadly'

Madison Erhardt

It's a deadly intersection that continues to draw concern from the public.

In less than a week, two significant crashes have occurred at Highway 97 and Old Vernon Road—one of those crashes claimed the life of 18-year-old Tavin Hansom, who died on the scene.

The second crash took place on Tuesday.

Jim Hansom, Tavin's father, drove by a crash that took place in the exact spot where his son died.

“We need to get something going, a petition. How many more crosses are we going to put there before we fix this? That place is deadly,” he asked.

"It's the exact same spot, the median that my boy laid on for hours with a sheet over—there's a car with the front end demolished on it now."

An occupant of one of the vehicles involved in the second crash tells Castanet they were turning left onto Highway 97 off Old Vernon Road when the collision occurred. Both vehicles were totalled, but everyone walked away from the crash.

Traffic safety specialist Bill Downey says the only solution is getting rid of the left turn onto the highway.

"There is a lot of opportunity for people to step out on the wrong time in front of a vehicle that is doing 140 km/h. Those level crossings like Old Vernon Road present an easily repaired, but highly dangerous circumstance."

"Drivers leaving Old Vernon Road at the very least should have only the opportunity to turn right. They should not have the potential of crossing that highway. Crossing four lanes of very fast traffic. We could do that immediately. We could throw the concrete barrier across, shutdown that intersection so that drivers can only turn right into Old Vernon Road and right out of Old Vernon Road," Downey said.

According to data from ICBC, the intersection of Highway 97 and Old Vernon Road is one of Kelowna's top 40 intersections for traffic accidents.

From 2013 to 2017 there were a total 79 crashes, 34 of those crashes resulted in injury or death. From 2016 to 2022 there were 125 crashes, 51 of those crashes caused injury or death.

Downey says the provincial government needs to take action.

"There is always resistance to preventing the free flow of traffic. You want people to be able to go wherever they want to go, whenever they want to do that."

"We have had decades of people asking for barriers on Highway 97 and that only happens when there is a point of focus that forces the Ministry of Transportation to act, so that they can be seen to be reacting to issues, rather than taking the great step forward of being reactive to prevent collisions and fatalities."

Castanet has reached out to the Ministry of Highways and is awaiting a response. Local MLA Norm Letnick declined an interview request, but said he is lobbying the ministry on the issue.

The Kangaroo Creek Farm, which is located nearby, issued an appeal on social media for people to avoid turning left off Old Vernon Road and onto the highway.

"There should be a light at that intersection," the business said. "Until then, please avoid turning left onto the highway at that intersection. It's simply not safe. If you visit the farm and are returning to Kelowna then please take the scenic route down Old Vernon Road to Reid's corner or use the airport frontage road to go down to the light. Be safe."

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