Central Okanagan MLAs see need for second Okanagan Lake crossing
Two out of three Liberal MLAs representing the Central Okanagan want the province to at least consider a second crossing of Okanagan Lake in the face of rapid population growth.
iNFOnews.ca emailed all three MLAs along with West Kelowna Mayor Gord Milsom and Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran, asking if the province should be looking into this issue.
“The short answer is yes,” Kelowna Mission MLA Renee Merrifield replied. “Kelowna and West Kelowna are growing quickly and that doesn’t appear to be changing. Our two communities are linked in so many ways that the traffic between us will only continue to grow.”
Kelowna Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick also responded.
“On June 23 I will be receiving a briefing on the (Regional Transportation) plan by ministry staff and will be asking your exact question,” he wrote in an email.
The mayors and Kelowna West MLA Ben Stewart did not reply by publication time, five days after being emailed by iNFOnews.ca.
In 2015, under the instigation of then Premier Christy Clark, who was also the MLA for Kelowna West at that time, the Ministry of Transportation launched a study into a potential second crossing.
That fizzled to a halt after Clark was defeated in 2017 and the NDP formed government.
“Premier Clark saw that (need for a second crossing) when she was the MLA for Kelowna West and unfortunately the current NDP government doesn’t,” Merrifield wrote in her email. “They seem more preoccupied with their billion dollar boondoggle vanity museum project, than on projects and planning for the long term success of our region.”
The museum reference is to the $800 million rebuild plan for the Royal B.C. Museum.
The 2015 second crossing study listed the Central Okanagan’s population at 192,000 and predicted it would reach 275,000 by 2040, at which time both the bridge and accesses from both sides would be at capacity.
In fact, the 2016 census put the population of the region just below 195,000 and, by 2021 it had grown by 14% to more than 222,000.
The Central Okanagan was the fastest growing major metropolitan area in the country during the last census period. At that same growth rate, it could pass 275,000 by 2030 or so, a decade sooner than predicted.
Yet the Regional Transportation Plan, adopted in November 2020 by all Central Okanagan local governments, barely mentions a second crossing.
It, too, projected it would take until 2040 to reach the 277,000 population level, also a decade behind what is more likely to actually happen.
It said the bridge has the capacity to handle traffic until at least 2040 but the approaches would have reached capacity before then.
Much of what the plan talks about is improved transit, cycling and walking routes throughout the region.
“The Regional Transportation Plan considers options for a variety of modes to support and improve travel across the lake, but a second crossing is not within the Regional Transportation Plan scope for the 20 to 25-year horizon,” it reads.
What is crucial to any crossing is preserving the access corridors.
In the spring of 2017, four months before Clark was defeated, the Ministry of Transportation identified two possible crossing points from the Westside between the Old Ferry Docks and Bear Creek Provincial Park.
A third option was a twinning of the existing bridge.
On the Kelowna side, the options ranged from just north of Rotary Marsh and Tugboat Beach to the foot of Knox Mountain, all of them dumping traffic onto Clement Avenue at some point.
That includes the former Tolko Mill site that is currently undergoing a major planning effort so it can be redeveloped.
Preliminary details of that plan won’t be released until this fall.
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