Update: 4:27 p.m.
The Ministry of Transportation and Highways has responded to questions about putting the Central Okanagan Planning Study (Highway 97 Corridor Study) on hold.
In an email response to the Capital News late Wednesday afternoon, the ministry said:
“At the Union of BC Municipalities (convention) last year, the City of Kelowna requested the ministry align our work with the development of Kelowna’s new Master Transportation Plan. As well, the Central Okanagan Regional District is starting to work on a regional transportation plan.
The work to date on the Central Okanagan Planning Study will help inform both of these plans, and ministry staff are working closely with both groups.
Because of these new plans, the Central Okanagan Planning Study cannot proceed along the original timeline, but this will have no impact on the planning study for Peachland. We are listening to the people of Peachland, and we want to hear what the public has to say on the district’s transportation needs.
The results from the initial round of open houses have been compiled, and a follow up public engagement will be planned for later in 2018.”
The Peachland work, which was taken out of the original Highway 97 study mandate and is now being conducted separately, is looking at the highway through that community and what can be done to improve it, including possibly relocating a portion of the highway.
Just months before it was due to be complete, the province’s highly touted two-year study of Highway 97 between Kelowna and Peachland has been put on hold, according to Transportation and Highways Minister Claire Trevena.
Or has it?
In responding to questions from Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick in the B.C. Legislature Tuesday, Trevena said the study was put on hold at the request of the City of Kelowna.
“The Central Okanagan planning study is on hold,” she said. “It’s on hold at the request of the City of Kelowna, who are doing their own work on studying traffic and doing their own studies. It’s on hold at their request. There will be public consultation, hopefully, later this year, when Kelowna has done the work that it wants to do. But rather than duplicate that and carry on, Kelowna requested that the province hold back on continuing the Central Okanagan planning study.”
But after a follow-up question from Letnick, where he asked if the ministry consulted the mayors of Lake Country, West Kelowna and other cities in the Okanagan impacted by the delay, Trevena was not as definitive.
“Apparently, there is still work going on,” she told Letnick. “Going out to consultation will be later this year. It is not as intensive work as has been going on in the past, because of Kelowna’s work.”
She noted the other cities are part of the regional plan that Kelowna is spearheading.
But news that the provincial study is on hold came as surprise to Kelowna’s manager of integrated transportation, Rafael Vilarreal. On Wednesday he said was not aware of any request to the province from the city to halt its work.
Vilarreal confirmed the city is undertaking its own work as part of the larger Regional Strategic Transportation Plan, saying the city saw the province’s study as too “highway centric.”
“We want to see more of a holistic approach,” he said.
The regional plan includes Kelowna, West Kelowna, Lake Country, Peachland, the Westbank First Nation and the Regional District of Central Okanagan. Representatives of the province are also involved with the regional plan said Vilarreal.
He said what happens on Highway 97 affects a number of main city roads such as Gordon Drive, Lakeshore Drive and Glenmore Drive.
But as for the city requesting the province put its two-year study—which was due to be completed later this year—on hold, Vilarreal said it was news to him.
He said it was his understanding the two studies were working in combination with each other, even though the provincial study is much farther along. The regional planning study has yet to name a consultant to work on it. It has a two-year time frame for completion.
The provincial study, initiated by the former Liberal government, started in the winter of 2015 and had been looking at the highway between north of Kelowna and south of Peachland, including a possible second crossing of Okanagan Lake.
Several rounds of public consultation have been held and recommendations for some short to medium-term improvements have been made. They include spending an estimated $40 million each on underpasses at the Highway 97 intersections with Westlake Road and Boucherie Road in West Kelowna to improve safety and traffic flow.
But at an open house last year, ministry officials said with approvals, land purchases and detailed design work yet to take place, construction of those underpasses is likely still years away.
The provincial study also found only a small percentage of traffic using the existing William Bennett Bridge Bridge over Okanagan Lake travels beyond the Central Okanagan, and for that reason, a second crossing is not deemed as much of a priority as it once was.
No one who could talk about the status of the provincial study was available at the Kelowna Ministry of Transportation and Highways office Wednesday, and ministry communications staff in Victoria could not immediately comment about the minister’s remarks or any delay with the Highway 97 Corridor study.
The webpage for the study makes no mention of it being on hold and shows only progress to the end of 2017.
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