The creation of a second bridge across Okanagan Lake may be decades away, but the province has taken a step toward that goal.
Staff with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure confirmed the province will spend $2 million over the next three years as part of a planning process for a potential second crossing of Okanagan Lake near Kelowna.
“We are updating previous engineering work and will be initiating a transportation planning study of the Central Okanagan to understand and explore the transportation needs of the region,” stated an e-mail from the ministry.
“Extensive community consultation is also planned to ensure we have a clear understanding of the needs, and options to meet them, to support such a large investment in the Okanagan.”
The ministry added it is at the beginning of a long process as it explores what the project could look like.
Last July Premier Christy Clark received cheers when she announced it is time to start planning a second Okanagan Lake crossing during a Westside-Kelowna byelection candidates debate.
Clark told Capital News last December that Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone has already begun engagement with local mayors regarding the second crossing.
“It is very early stages. I don’t expect that it will be done by the next election, but hopefully we’ll have some significant progress in the planning by then,” Clark said last December.
West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater said the $2 million for planning is good news, but he said he wants considerations to extend further than just a second bridge.
He spoke specifically about possible Highway 97 rerouting to bypass Peachland.
“We think this has to be re-oriented a little bit, in order to look at a corridor plan related to the second crossing and a Peachland bypass. And where does it go: In or around West Kelowna? Because it has a lot of implications for this community,” said Findlater.
“I’ve never…bought into the idea that it’s going to happen next year. This is long-term planning, but we do have to start thinking about the corridor.”
When asked whether or not the $2 million for planning is related to the Peachland bypass, MOTI staff wrote: “The planning study will include a significant technical investigation as it examines potential route corridors and engages the public in consultations on the future transportation needs of the Central Okanagan.”
West Kelowna’s mayor also commented on the increasing number of overpasses being built west of William R. Bennett Bridge.
Construction is currently underway on the Sneena Road overpass, the third interchange or overpass to be built in a two kilometre stretch over the last three years.
Evelyn Lube, spokesperson for the project, said the Sneena Road overpass is necessary to fulfil a commitment between Westbank First Nation and the province for key accesses from the bridge to the Highway 97 and Boucherie Road intersection.
But Findlater said “interchanges may very well be in the cards” for the Highway 97/Boucherie Road and Highway 97/Hudson Road intersections as well.
He noted the District of West Kelowna has received an invitation from MOTI to talk regarding future plans for those intersections.
“We have to look at the implications of that for our community…do we want to be a community of interchanges?” said Findlater.
“At least we’ve been invited to the table.”