Highway could be closed for months

It could be months.

Ministry of Transportation officials say it could be anywhere between a few days or a few months until a portion of Highway 97 is reopened to traffic.

A seven kilometre stretch of the highway near Summerland was closed Friday evening after an unstable fissure was discovered by work crews.

Highway Minister engineer, Mike Oliver, says the best thing that could happen would be for the fissure to fail as soon as possible.

“If that failed on its own we could pick it up tomorrow we could open the road as soon as we could clean it up. That probably won’t happen, that’s very unlikely. The next best case scenario is that the monitoring shows there is no movement. If the monitoring shows that there’s no movement at all after a period of time, perhaps two or three days, we’d be happy to open it to single lane alternating traffic,” says Oliver.

He says if that’s the case, ongoing monitoring of the fissure would be needed.

“Unfortunately, there was minor movement noted Sunday night. So it is moving, it is creeping along. The movement we had Sunday night was in the area of 10 millimetres, which doesn’t sound like much, but that’s indicative of the rock mass still moving along.”

Oliver says spotters are monitoring the fissure remotely and they are watching for early signs of fissure failure.

“We don't want to put people in danger so we are monitoring remotely. There is always an indication of failure beforehand that provides some estimate of time before rocks would reach the road. Usually what that involves is minor cracks opening up and small rock falls that have dislodged from the slope.”

He says it is unlikely the rocks would fall into the lake if the fissure falls.

“It won't fall into the lake, there's a large catch basin below it so even if the entire section comes down all at once, it will go into the basin. Potentially there could be some overspill but it would be of a minor nature, it would be small rolling rocks. I would say 10% of the mass would go into the lake.”

Oliver says another concern is the effects of a cold weather freeze-thaw.

“When water freezes it expands and it gets into the cracks and it does loosen up secondary rocks and that would further destabilize the mass. If the section is as unstable as we think the process would increase the movement and that may be a factor that contributes to failure.”

Drivers are being told to take Highway 3 or 3A to Highway 5A to Highway 97 if they have to travel between Kelowna and Penticton.

More Penticton News