A second crossing of Okanagan Lake has been talked about almost from the day the new W.R. Bennett Bridge opened in 2008.

But, despite the fact that the Central Okanagan was the fastest growing major metropolitan area in Canada during the last census period, planners and most politicians have no interest in a second crossing.

In fact, the Regional Transportation Plan – six years in the making and adopted near the end of 2020 – is already out of date from a population projection perspective.

“The Central Okanagan Planning Study (COPS) showed that there is sufficient capacity for traffic demand on the bridge until at least 2040,” is one of the few mentions of a second crossing in that plan.

“I think planners and others are hoping for a magical conversion to everybody riding the bus and riding their bikes,” Doug Findlater, former West Kelowna mayor, current councillor and long-term advocate of a second crossing, told iNFOnews.ca. “I do not believe that is going to happen. I think we’re going to migrate to electric vehicles, which will still take up a space on the road and on the bridge.”

If nothing else, the cities should be protecting traffic corridors for a future crossing, he said.

When the Bennett Bridge opened in 2008 it was handling an average of 50,000 vehicles a day. In April of this year, that had risen to 61,000 a day.

But the peak times are usually Fridays around the July 1, August and Labour Day long weekends, according to the Ministry of Highways.

The bridge’s capacity is 80,000 vehicles a day, the Ministry said.

When Christy Clark was premier of B.C. and representing the Westside Kelowna riding, she started a planning process for a second crossing.

“Even though a second crossing is more than two decades away, it’s important to start the planning process now,” states a May 13, 2015 government news release.

READ MORE: Province wants to know where you would put a second bridge across Okanagan Lake

At that time, it estimated the population of the Central Okanagan was 192,000 and would grow to 275,000 by 2040, a 25-year projection.

The 2016 census put the population at close to 195,000 and that jumped by 14% over the next census period to 222,162 in 2021.

If the region continues to grow at that rate, the 275,000 population mark will be reached before 2030. Even at a more modest growth rate of 10% for each census period it will hit 275,000 before 2035.

The Bennett Bridge took three years to build and many more to plan so, realistically, construction on a new bridge should start in five to 10 years.

“There’s no planning,” Findlater said. “Nobody’s doing anything and, in fact, they’re pooh poohing the whole idea. When I talk to MLAs, or Kelowna or some of my own council, they say that’ll never happen or it’s way way in the future or something. They think it’s a long ways away.”

He thinks the issue is going to come to a head much sooner than that.

“The bridge right now – if everybody’s noticing how bad it is in May, wait until this summer,” Findlater said. “We seem to make it through the winter but we’ve had winters of COVID, which has kept traffic down. We will, within a year or two, see what the impact is.”

There have been a number of alternative routes discussed over the years but the most logical, in Findlater’s mind, is from near Bear Creek Provincial Park to the Tolko site, which is currently being planned for redevelopment.

READ MORE: Transportation ministry narrows route options for second crossing of Okanagan Lake

There are also bottlenecks through West Kelowna and Peachland that need to be addressed, he said and added that highway interchanges through West Kelowna no longer seem to be on the government’s agenda.

“During an NDP government, they’re not interested in pursuing those,” Findlater said. “As with all governments, they are spending money on highways on the Island and in their ridings and the Massey Tunnel. There’s not much interest in pursuing that in this area.”

For Findlater, there is one consolation.

“I’m glad I live on the Westside and don’t have to go to Kelowna very often,” he said.

READ MORE: Why the Okanagan Lake bridge has to float

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