Kelowna’s mayor says it’s time the Okanagan started looking at light rail to connect cities in the valley.
Colin Basran, during his annual State of the City address to the Kelowna chamber of Commerce said Friday with the recent municipal partnership purchase of the former CN rail corridor between Kelowna and Coldstream in the North Okanagan, a possible route now exists for light rail between the central and north Okanagan.
“Now we need to look at (a route) to the south,” he said following his address.
The former rail corridor is being turned into a recreational walking and cycling trail that, in the Kelowna area, is slated to be paved between downtown and the UBC Okanagan campus later this year.
Basran said it is wide enough to handle light rail as well as leave room for a walking and cycling portion as well.
During his speech, Basran said as the population of the region grows, it makes sense to look at alternatives to widening existing roads and building new roads because that will just increase traffic. He said an eight-car light rail train could replace as many as 15 buses on the roads or hundreds of cars.
While he conceded the area is still years away from seeing light rail become a reality, he believes the discussions need to start now. As an interim measure, he said rapid transit buses could be looked at to link Penticton, Kelowna and Vernon, as well as the smaller communities in between.
But the mayor was quick to stress in calling for consideration of light rail he is not advocating all drivers “turn in their keys.” He said the city has several major road projects on the go that are considered important for dealing with Kelowna’s growth, such as the planned new South Perimeter Road, John Hindle Drive and an extension of Highway 33, as well as widening projects on Gordon Drive, Glenmore Road and Springfield Road.
The city has been pushing to get more people out of their vehicles and taking alternative modes of transportation such as transit and cycling for several years and Basran said he feels the public has been getting the message as the number of vehicle journey’s on local roads has dropped slightly in recent years.
But with an additional 30,000 people expected in the city between now and 2030, changes will need to be made.
Currently, he said, in an average year, Kelowna motorists collectively drive an equivalent of travelling to the moon four times, and “something has to change.”
“Building roads is not a long-term solution for traffic congestion,” said Basran. “It’s a costly, temporary fix.”
During his speech, Basran also touched on many of the moves the city is making to address a myriad of issues, including social issues such as homelessness and housing.
The city’s Journey Home strategy to address homelessness is now underway, he said, being lead by a 23-member local task force and a nationally-recognized expert in dealing with the issue.
This year, for the first time, social issues were the top concern of Kelowna residents in the city’s annual Citizens’ Survey.
In the speech the mayor also paid tribute to departing, long-time city manager Ron Mattiussi, who will step down March 30.
Basran said Mattiussi has helped change the city in many positive ways during his 22 years at city hall—11 as city manager—and the initiatives he helped council initiate will have lasting impacts Kelowna for generations.
“Ron’s stamp is on our community and his contributions will be valued by all of us for many years to come,” said Basran to a standing ovation for Mattiussi by the sold out crowd at the chamber luncheon at the Capri Hotel.
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