The William R. Bennett Bridge, linking Kelowna and West Kelowna, turns 10 on Friday.
The only crossing of Okanagan Lake opened May 25, 2008, following a ceremonial stroll over what are now the three westbound lanes by thousands of area residents led by then premier Gordon Campbell and the man the bridge is named after, former B.C. premier and Kelowna-area MLA Bill Bennett.
To cut the ribbon opening the bridge, Bennett, 76 at the time, used the same pair of scissors his late father, another former B.C. premier, W.A.C. Bennett, used to snip the ribbon to open the first three-lane floating bridge over Okanagan Lake in 1958.
Bill Bennett served as premier from 1975 to 1986, oversaw construction of the Coquihalla Highway and the Coquihalla Connector, which linked the Okanagan with the Lower Mainland and is widely credited with spurring the economic transformation of the southern Interior. He died in 2015 at the age of 83.
The bridge that bears his name was built beside the aging steel and concrete three-lane floating structure his father opened 50 years earlier. The old floating bridge was dismantled and removed and many of the pontoons that held it in place were used to anchor the new bridge.
Planning for the project started in the early 1990s and in the end, the province spent $144 million to build the bridge, nearly 50 per cent more than the original $88 million estimate.
During the planning, City of Kelowna engineer Ron Westlake has a front row seat.
“I started working on the project with the Ministry of Transportation in 1994,” said Westlake, who became the city’s point-man on the project.
He said he believes the bridge has delivered what was promised. Traffic flow over the lake and on each side has been improved and there have been other benefits too.
“It has also helped develop downtown Kelowna into the very vibrant growing area that it is now,” he said.
The province is also happy with the performance of the bridge over its first decade.
“The Ministry (of Transportation)is very pleased with the performance of the William R. Bennett Bridge over its first 10 years,” said Steve Sirett, Okanagan-Shuswap district manager for the ministry. “It has improved safety and mobility for travellers and should continue to effectively serve the people of Kelowna and those traveling through the region for years to come. We continue to have a positive working relationship with the concessionaire, SNC-Lavalin, which keeps the bridge in good operating condition and responds quickly whenever issues arise, while also ensuring timely communication with the ministry.”
Kevin Hamakawa, general manager of SNC Lavalin operations and maintenance, the company that operates and maintains the bridge under contract to the government, said the structure has held up well over its first decade.
He said with the exception of the typical aging one would expect to see, there have been no problems.
“Overall it has stood up better than we expected,” he said.
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