Safety before convenience: Highway 97 closure in South Okanagan means long detours - InfoNews

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Safety before convenience: Highway 97 closure in South Okanagan means long detours

Work to clear this week's rock slide on Highway 97 north of Summerland was halted on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019 after a large crack was discovered in the rock face threatening the safety of workers at the site.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Ministry of Transportation
February 06, 2019 - 2:00 PM

SUMMERLAND - It's all about safety with respect to re-routing traffic around the section of Highway 97 in the South Okanagan closed by a rockslide earlier this week, according to Penticton MLA Dan Ashton.

The highway, which ministry officials hoped they would be able to reopen later today, Feb. 6, will remain closed indefinitely following the discovery of a large crack in the rock face, threatening worker safety.

“When you talk about the general public, safety is number one, and that is provided by alternate routes provided by other highway systems such as the Coquihalla Connector to Highway 5, to Highway 3 and back to Highway 97 or Highway 33,” Ashton says.

A shutdown of the highway for an extended period of time represents a big inconvenience to the commuting public and that’s why the ministry opened the 201 Forest Service Road west of the valley, he says.

A sign on Penticton's Channel Parkway indicates the alternate route to Kelowna and points north via the 201 Forest Service Road.
A sign on Penticton's Channel Parkway indicates the alternate route to Kelowna and points north via the 201 Forest Service Road.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Ministry of Transportation

“It’s not that there aren’t alternate routes, they just aren’t as expedient as the highway,” he says, adding the 201 Forest Service Road has proved to be a successful alternative in handling traffic less than five tonnes.

A closer alternative exists off the Garnet Valley Road west of Highway 97, but the steep terrain makes developing it into a reasonable highway alternative a challenge and Ashton doesn’t believe it would make a viable alternate route.

“The geographic nature of this valley is it’s very steep, and incredibly expensive to build roads,” he says.

Ashton says discussions have taken place in the past about the viability of creating an alternate route for valley traffic along the 201 Forest Service Road, but traffic studies revealed that most traffic going through to Kelowna ends up staying there.

“I’m talking about traffic that goes past Kelowna Airport, close to 90 per cent of traffic passing through Kelowna doesn’t get beyond that point. So the traffic issues would remain whether there was an alternate route or not,” he says.

Highway 97 north of Summerland remains closed until further notice. Pictured in this submitted photo is what you'll see looking south at the northern end of the highway closure.
Highway 97 north of Summerland remains closed until further notice. Pictured in this submitted photo is what you'll see looking south at the northern end of the highway closure.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED

The Ministry of Transportation has avoided answering questions about plans to develop an alternative route around the Summerland to Peachland portion of Highway 97, simply stating “our priority is on doing everything we can to reopen Highway 97 as soon as safely possible."

So for now it appears the 201 Forest Service Road remains the best bet for South Okanagan residents attempting to travel to northern points in the valley while the section of Highway 97 from Summerland to Peachland is closed. The dirt road has been plowed and sanded and is in good condition, but motorists are urged to maintain the 50 km/h speed limit and drive with caution.

It's estimated to take an additional 90 minutes to make the trip from Penticton to Kelowna on the logging road.

Larger vehicles and commercial trucks weighing five tonnes or more must detour via Highway 97C, Highway 5 A and Highway 3 A to Highway 3.

For the latest on the status of Highway 97 between Summerland and Peachland go to the Drive B.C. website here, or follow Drive B.C. on Twitter at @DriveBC_TOK or @DriveBC. You can also follow the Ministry of Transportation on Twitter at @TranBC.

Alternate routes are pictured in this map submitted by the Ministry of Transportation.
Alternate routes are pictured in this map submitted by the Ministry of Transportation.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Ministry of Transportation

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 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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