Erosion mitigation drives up cost of Sicamous-Armstrong rail trail

Rail trail cost balloons

A rail trail between Sicamous and Armstrong will cost a lot more than originally estimated.

Shuswap Trail Alliance executive director Phil McIntyre says where the original estimate was pegged at $13 million, that cost has now ballooned to $17 million, and with contingencies could swell to as much as $23 million.

The trail would connect the two communities via the former CPR rail line, which is now owned by the Regional District of North Okanagan, Columbia Shuswap Regional District, and Splatsin First Nation.

"It's definitely more than anticipated," said McIntyre.

But, he said, a consultant's draft development plan did not come as a surprise, and he's still optimistic the project will move ahead in the near future.

The main drivers of the increased cost are erosion repairs along Mara Lake, at the Sicamous Narrows and Shuswap River, and a highway crossing that would be required at Highway 97 just north of Armstrong.

In some areas, the Shuswap River is undercutting the railbed, and there are several smaller areas where the trail crosses river oxbows multiple times that need work.

As for crossing the highway, one site in Grindrod is in a 50 km/h zone so would only require lights and a crosswalk, but the Armstrong location is in a highway speed zone, so would necessitate an overpass, making it much more expensive.

That project alone would cost $2.5 million.

Erosion stabilization work would add another $5.5 million along the length of the route.

McIntyre says four stages of development are envisioned: Stage 1 - protect the corridor to a baseline level; Stage 2 - manage safety issues, Stage 3 - build the trail; Stage 4 - final amenities, such as washrooms, benches and so on.

He says the target is to raise enough money for the first two stages, then go after provincial grant money.

"The timeline will hinge on what we're able to raise ... conceivably, we could start the first two stages in the next two years with fundraising campaigns this fall and in consecutive years."

He said the "ideal build-out" would take three to five years, with the trail being usable within two years.

Eventually, the goal is to link up with the Okanagan Rail Trail in Vernon, providing a hiking and biking corridor that could one day span from the Shuswap to Osoyoos.

As the rail line between Armstrong and Vernon is still in use, "it would take some willingness from CN to consider a 'rail with trail' concept, but they have not been too open to that in the recent past," said McIntyre, but a parallel highway path could also be looked at.

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