2019's top 10 stories: Hwy 97 blocked by rockslide

2. Rockslide shuts Hwy 97

Chelsea Powrie

Castanet is counting down the top stories of 2019.

We’ll count down to the year’s No. 1 story on Dec. 31 and publish the newsmaker on New Year’s Day.

It severed the main artery between Penticton and Kelowna for most of two weeks — the infamous Highway 97 rockslide was a major headache this February, and ended up costing $2.4 million to deal with.

On Jan. 31, a few rocks tumbled in the area north of Summerland above Callan Road, temporarily causing traffic issues. Then two days later on Feb. 2, the whole side of the embankment let loose, coating the road with rocks, trees and debris. 

No one was harmed, but the slide closed the highway indefinitely, causing panic among those with travel needs up and down the southern half of Okanagan Lake. 

Desperate commuters turned to unmarked, unplowed forest routes on both sides of the lake, some finding themselves stuck.

"I understand that there are people facing some challenges right now with their work schedules and everything else, and I would just urge people to give the professionals some time here to make sure this slide is going to be safe," said Penticton and Summerland MLA Dan Ashton in early February. 

On Feb. 11, 10 days after the closure, crews successfully connected a detour along Callan Road below the slide zone, finally allowing traffic to flow at a reduced speed through the area. 

In the mean time, fluctuating freezing and thawing complicated a full cleanup.

“That's one of the things we will be monitoring and assessing in the coming days, and I think that's going to be a real test of the stability of the site," said Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Southern Interior rep Mike Lorimer in late February. 

The highway reopened to traffic on Mar. 5. 

Crews removed over 20,000 cubic meters of debris from the site over many months following. Work included continuous geotechnical assessments, rock blasting on the slope, traffic control, the construction of the detour and final slope stability work, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure says. 

The total price tag was approximately $2.4 million. 

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