Second bridge over Okanagan Lake not top highway priority for West Kelowna

Mayor Doug Findlater says the city would like to see realignment of the Westbank couplet back on the table.

Dumping the Highway 97 couplet through Westbank is back on West Kelowna council’s agenda.

Having dropped its lobbying effort with the provincial government after an earlier attempt failed to gain any traction with Victoria due to the estimated $40-million cost of realigning the road using just one side of the existing couplet, Mayor Doug Findlater said Monday not only is getting rid of the couplet back on agenda, it’s a high priority.

The main reason for its return is the province’s ongoing study of the Highway 97 corridor through the Central Okanagan.

According to Findlater, if everything is on the table, getting rid of the couplet should be there too. “We say put (getting rid of )the couplet back on the table,” said the West Kelowna mayor at the first of two Highway 97 Corridor study open houses Monday. “There seems to be resources available.”

The second open house was scheduled for Kelowna Tuesday afternoon.

The City of West Kelowna envisions a six-lane section of the highway on what is now Dobbin Road (the east-bound section of the couplet) and turning the westbound section (Main Street) into a city road.

The open houses were held to gather public input about what it would like to see done with the highway over the next 25 years as traffic volumes increase and congestion on the road grows.

The B.C. Ministry of Transportation estimates the five-lane William R. Bennett Bridge—which opened in 2008 and is the only crossing of Okanagan Lake—will reach capacity by 2040, a few years later than originally predicted.

So it has embarked on a study of the entire highway corridor through the Central Okanagan, which includes trying to find a crossing point—as well as routes to and from—a second bridge over the lake.

Regional transportation manager for the ministry Murray Tekano said building on public input gathered at earlier study open houses, the sessions in West Kelowna and Kelowna would go a long way to finding some answers.

He said the ministry now has a baseline to use based on drivers’ current experiences on the highway, so now solutions to growing congestion, especially on the approaches to the existing bridge, need to be found.

Studies have shown that only a small amount of traffic using the bridge is through traffic, with 68 per cent traveling between Kelowna and West Kelowna, the WFN reserves and Peachland.

That could influence how a second crossing is built—to accommodate mainly interurban traffic and where it is build, said Tekano.

For years, the City of Kelowna has been pushing for a new bridge  linking Popular Point with land near the old ferry dock on the Westside. A crossing could use the improved Clement Avenue—once known as the Central Okanagan Bypass and the North End Connector—as the Kelowna-side access route.

But that crossing point has not been selected as of yet, said Tekano.

He said part of what he and other ministry officials are hoping to hear from the public is where they think the best location for a second crossing would be.

Meanwhile, work will need to be done on the highway at other points as intersections start to become busier, particularly on the Westside at Boucherie Road and at Westlake Road.

As the ministry heads into the second phase of the three-year, $2-million study this winter—a stage dubbed “option review”—Tekano said it’s hoped some short and long-term solutions can be found.

While he would not commit to realigning the couplet through Westbank, he did say that is one area where heavier traffic congestion is likely to be seen going forward.

 

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