Months of work still ahead for full reopening of Highway 97 north of Summerland

Months of work still for hwy

The reopening of all four lanes of Highway 97 north of Summerland is still months away, according to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Months after a major rockslide tumbled down across the major connection route for the Okanagan, crews continue to haul tons of rock away and conduct twice-weekly blasting that briefly closes down the roadway.

Erik Lachmuth gave an update on the work to the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen on Thursday, as a delegate from MoTI.

He said there wasn't much new to share, as they wait on confirmation on the final stabilization design.

"I can't give you a timeline right now when we're going to be back to four lanes, but we're still in a period of months, not weeks," Lachmuth added.

Summerland Mayor Doug Holmes thanked the ministry for their work and touched on the incredible amount of rock that's been moved out of there so far when local officials were given a tour.

"They showed us how much more it needs to be moved. And you can't even imagine just how much is going on there," he said.

Penticton-area Director Helena Konanz did express concern regarding the massive effect on the economy in the region, with wait times and closures at the site being discouraging for some.

She said she's received complaints from multiple people regarding unplanned closures and longer-than-expected closures, pointing to a long wait during blast work the day prior.

“It was a planned closure 11 (a.m.) to 12:30 (p.m.), we got to Peachland at 12:30 and we waited until 1:30 and the lineup was massive before we got moving," Konanz said

"So you can understand what this is doing to our region right now economically, on top of everything else that has happened.”

AIM Roads and DriveBC have been reminding the public to expect daily intermittent closures at the site of the rockslide, with ongoing mitigation work at the slide sometimes requiring unpredictable closures.

Drivers were, and are, recommended to factor in a possible 15- to 20-minute wait to their travel plans.

Scheduled blasting, which could require longer closures, are posted 48 hours in advance.

"I do know that yesterday's closure was longer than than normal. And that was because there was a helicopter involved in hanging some a mesh for the rock work. That was kind of a different approach that they were taking for that and it did not go as planned, and there were more delays on that and there will be follow up discussions to ensure that those delays don't happen with that kind of work again," Lachmuth said in answer.

"We understand the importance of ensuring that we have an accurate closure times and then it's put out there well ahead of time, as far in advance as we can."

Konanz also questioned if there was any way to expedite the process.

Lachmuth said there aren't any additional resources they could utilize to speed up the work.

"We are absolutely putting in every effort to make sure that this gets done. But we can't just do a quick bandaid fix and go away from it. We don't want to be back here in this situation again," he added.

No further updates were given on where the project is at in regards to its state of completion either, although Lachmuth did address that a former estimate given from the ministry was no longer accurate.

In December, the ministry said in statement to Castanet that to date, the project had removed approximately 6,700 cubic metres of material through blasting.

When Steve Sirett, executive director of the ministry's Southern Interior Highways and Regional Services division, spoke to Castanet in October, he estimated that 60,000 cubic metres of material in total would need to be removed.

When Castanet asked again in December if that estimation stood true, MoTI said via email that "At this time, there is no new estimate to share."

Since 6,700 cubic metres of matter were removed to date at the point, it amounted to roughly 11 per cent of the total estimated removal needs for the project completion.

MoTI has yet to provide new updates on the amount of material they have removed, or required to be removed.

Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff said many of the Interior BC mayors have written to the provincial government regarding their concerns and a need for additional regional roads and alternate routes to be brought up to highway standards.

"So that when things like this happen, we at least have another option. And certainly in the wintertime it's much more difficult," she added. "I just want to make sure that is still brought up and it's still something that we need to continue to look at."

Lachmuth said this is on the ministry's radar.

Konanz added that Penticton plans to bring forward this issue to the Southern Interior Local Government Association (SILGA) conference and hopefully to Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention from there.

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