UPDATE: Stretch of Highway 97 between Peachland and Summerland remains closed today | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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UPDATE: Stretch of Highway 97 between Peachland and Summerland remains closed today

Work to clean up a rockslide on Highway 97 between Summerland and Peachland stopped today, Feb. 6, 2019, after workers discovered a large crack around the slide area, shown in the area of the orange tarp to the left side of the photo.
Image Credit: TWITTER/Drive B.C.
February 06, 2019 - 3:19 PM

SUMMERLAND - Okanagan commuters will not see Highway 97 re-opening to traffic today.

Attempts to clear Highway 97 between Summerland and Peachland of slide debris took a step, or two, backwards today, Feb. 6, after workers discovered a large crack in the rock face surrounding the current slide area.

The highway has been shut down since Saturday after tons of rock cascaded down on the road surface following a smaller slide last Thursday.

Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure officials spoke to members of the media this afternoon, discussing the implications of this morning’s discovery at the work site.

Executive director of Highway Operation for the Southern Interior Region Mike Lorimer said this recent setback is a “fairly unusual event,” saying rockfalls are normally assessed and then cleaned up.

He said the continuous nature of this slide is a concern, but the ministry is working towards getting the highway open and then looking at a longer term fix. The location of the slide is the same area where a smaller event took place in 2014.

Another crack in the hillside was discovered and excavated in 2008, during expansion of the highway to four lanes, but Lorimer says that slide is not linked to this one.

Lorimer said despite conditions not being ideal for highway building through this particular section of the Okanagan Valley, a second Okanagan highway “was not in the cards.”

He said the province had 47,000 kms of road to maintain and keep in safe operating condition with a priority to looking at improvements to existing infrastructure rather than new highway construction.

With discovery of the crack this morning, work has been halted and remote monitoring of the crack is taking place while an assessment is being done.

“When will be when it’s safe,” Lorimer said in response to a question about when the road might reopen again.

Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure geohazard and slope stability manager Tom Kneale said work on the slide area up to this morning had been focused on trying to establish a stable back face prior to cleaning up the roadway.

He said the stabilization work was concentrating on removing the upper third of the slide area’s soil and loose rock, which was falling onto the highway. He hoped once the assessment was complete the work would be able to continue.

Scalers, drillers and other workers have been enduring some ugly working conditions over the past few days, Lorimer said, expressing thanks for their work in -20 and -30 Celsius windchills, on rough terrain on unstable slopes from daybreak to dusk.

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.

— This story was updated at 3:11 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019 to add new information from the Ministry of Transportation.

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