The province may be willing to spend millions of dollars to improve two highway intersections in West Kelowna, but that doesn’t mean West Kelowna council thinks its a good idea.
City council has made its distain for the transportation ministry’s plan to spend an estimated $40 million each on the Highway 97 intersections at Boucherie Road and nearby Westlake Road clear by refusing to even entertain a staff-recommended motion of support for the projects.
“No one (on council) would move it or second it,” said Mayor Doug Findlater. “I guess it was a diplomatic way of showing non-support.”
The mayor said he and his council feel the province would do better putting the money it would spend on improving the intersections towards coming up with a plant to, in Findlater’s words, “remove Highway 97 from West Kelowna.”
The council wants a new portion of Highway 97 built to the north, in the hills overlooking the municipality. And it points to a concept originally proposed 20 years ago after the Okanagan Connector was built that proposed a new “highline” highway run from the Connector, near existing provincial Tourist Information building, to Westside Road, just north of the William R. Bennett Bridge.
Findlater said the current location of Highway 97 bisects West Kelonwa, especially the widely hated one-way couplet through Westbank.
“Planners tell us West Kelowna has no sense of place and I think it’s because of (the highway),” said the mayor.
The other problem council has with the planned intersection improvements is by announcing them, West Kelonwa feels the ministry is pre-determining its own on-going, two-year study looking at ways to improve Highway 97 through the Central Okanagan, work that includes looking at the possibility of a second lake crossing.
But the ministry’s Murray Tekano said last week that is not the case. He said work done so far on the corridor study has pointed to the need to improve the two intersections, particularly from a safety point of view.
He said the two intersections are rated as the two worst for accidents on the west side of the lake and the 20th and 24th worst in the province.
Findlater said the municipality is “fact-checking” that claim, adding even if the numbers are still high, the severity of accidents at both intersections is way down now compared with the past given that there are advanced left-turn signals at both of them.
He said the type of accidents at each intersection now are low-speed, “read-enders,” not the more serious head-on and “t-bone”-type collisions seen in the past.
At its meeting Tuesday, council passed a motion calling for the highway, as it exists now to be moved to the north—which would take it above Glenrosa, Shannon Lake and West Kelowna Estates. It also is calling on Victoria to do a study aimed at such a move, a study it would be willing to co-fund.will be made to local MLA Premier Christy Clark.
While he said she has been made aware in the past of council’s desire to see the highway moved—both from the him and prominent West Kelowna businesspeople, Findlater said Clark will now be formally asked to get involved as the local MLA.
In addition to removing what Findlater described as a “freeway” out of the city, a move to the north could also give the municipality a much-needed second access and exit from the Glenrosa neighbourhood, something needed in case of an emergency such as fire.
A road above Glenrosa could cross the upper portion of Glenrosa Road to provide that second access and exit, said the mayor.