Kelowna residents who regularly travel a narrow and windy portion of Highway 33 are frustrated that their concerns about road safety continue to be ignored by the provincial government, while the number of fatalities and serious accidents stack up.
“As we’re speaking now there’s another accident in progress,” said John Collinson, the president of the Joe Rich Residents Association, Monday afternoon, as emergency crews worked to clear the site and tend to the injured parties.
The accident, he explained, was close to the spot where 21-year-old Alexandra Paulina Nyuli died last week—an event that’s rocked the community and galvanized its resolve to see changes.
Starting at the Black Mountain store, and twisting its way up to Big White Ski Resort, Highway 33 has long been two lanes of terrifying, high-speed travel, he explained. And it’s only become worse in recent years.
“It’s a nerve racking drive,” he said. “There are a lot of idiots out there.”
Three years ago the community met with representatives from the Ministry of Highways to deal with the issue, and asked for a reduction to the speed limit. At that time it was at 90 km/hr, and neighbourhood residents were asking for a change to 80 km/hr.
What happened instead, shocked those who use the road most frequently.
“Highway 33, which is a narrow two lane road, with no shoulder and no divider, is now 100 km/hr,” he said.
“People who drive the road regularly, do it sensibly, but there are a lot of idiots who think, ‘it’s a 100 km/hour, then I can do 110 to 120 km/hour.”
Loaded semis even take the windy road at that speed, he said, and when they’re combined with the dozens of cars streaming down from Big White after a day of skiing, things get really hairy.
Collinson himself has had a few “white-knuckle” moments, waiting to turn off the highway to get to his home on Philipot Road.
Cars streaming down from the mountain block his passage, and because there’s no place to turn off, cars back up behind him. It’s a situation he believes could eventually cause a deadly pile up.
“When you’re sitting there, no shoulders on your right, none on your left, cars have to stop or they’re in trouble… and the roads sometimes are very icy,” he said.
It’s a problem, he doesn’t see an easy answer to.
“The road is too narrow and the cost to do what needs to be done is too high,” he said, noting straightening curves and widening the path would go a long way to improving safety conditions.
If that can’t be done he’d like to see shoulders widened and turning lanes added.
A meeting with ministry of highways officials is expected to be held in the spring, and at that time their concerns may be dealt with.
“Everybody was not too happy with how it was going as it was,” said Collinson. “What happened with Alexandria (Nyuli ) pushed everybody over the edge. When (ministry officials_ come out, and I’m sure they will, they better walk on eggshells. People are very upset.”
Calls to the ministry had yet to be returned by deadline.