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Downtown construction road closures creating headaches for existing merchants

Lawrence Avenue in Kelowna is closed between Ellis and Pandosy for yet another concrete pour on the Ella highrise.
March 06, 2019 - 11:00 AM

KELOWNA - New construction downtown is showing some growing pains for existing businesses trying to keep traffic flowing to their doors and around near constant road closures.

The Downtown Kelowna Association has taken their case to City Hall and are trying to figure out how to ensure those businesses get at least notice of impending road closures, Executive Director Mark Burley told Trouble is neither provincial regulations nor local Kelowna bylaws are helping the situation.

City of Kelowna traffic programmer Stuart Evans says first off, we can all expect more complete road closures instead of traffic control.

‘We’re going to see more and more road closures and sidewalk closures,” Evans told, talking about the new provincial rules. “A flagger is the last resort now. If you can close a lane or make it safer or not use a flagger, that’s what Worksafe B.C. wants to see. Worksafe B.C. doesn’t really care that it’s a traffic disruption. They care about the safety of the worker.”

The City spends about $1 million a year on flaggers, Evans said, but is in the process of buying a second set of portable traffic signals and has spent $20,000 on portable plastic barriers that can be filled with water.

He noted that a day-long road closure can be faster, safer and produce better quality work than three days of alternating traffic.

Such closures have become more frequent in downtown Kelowna where Ellis and Richter streets have had partial lane closures for months because of housing construction.

Full road closures of Lawrence Avenue between Ellis and Pondosy are frequent and will continue for months to accommodate concrete pours for the 21-storey Ella tower.

Contractors are required to get permits whenever they need to close a sidewalk or road and, with only a few exceptions, they comply, Evans said. But the 72-hour notice to affected businesses is not always happening.

“Most of the people down there — Ella, One Water Street, Ellis Park — they all have permits and actually email us when they do road closures,” Evans said. Some even send him copies of notices they’re giving to neighbouring businesses.

The reality on the ground, however, is that a closure for something like a crane working may be delayed because of heavy winds and rescheduled the next day without proper notice, or a contractor might just realize on a particular day that they need to close a road.

When that's happened "we’ve read them the riot act and, in some cases issued a $100 fine,” Evans said.

There have only been 11 tickets issued in the last five years for road closures without permits. Failing to give notice to affected businesses doesn’t carry any fine at all.

As a result of complaints from local businesses suddenly cut off from customers, Evans is including the association on his email list for notifications of closures with the expectation that the association will notify its members, even though it’s the contractors’ responsibility to provide that notification.

Most of the larger contractors are good at following the rules but there are a few who are “not the best at public relations,” Evans said.

Dealing with high rise projects that fill entire lots is new to the city so the bylaws need to be reviewed to deal with that reality, he said.

Last year the city issued about 800 permits worth about $500,000 to almost 250 contractors for “traffic impedance” – meaning road or sidewalk blockages or closures..

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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