West Kelowna downtown to remain divided

Despite being a priority since incorporation in 2007, West Kelowna has set aside its dream of converting the couplet into a single highway.

Despite being a priority since West Kelowna's incorporation in 2007

West Kelowna is giving up its fight to convert the couplet—which chops the community’s downtown core into three sections—into a single highway along Dobbin Road.

Despite being a priority since incorporation in 2007, council unanimously decided the initiative would be too costly for the district to take on itself.

“I think everybody’s disappointed with the results of a really serious look at this issue,” said Mayor Doug Findlater.

“We don’t have a sense of community, a sense of place down there in the downtown core—that’s what’s disappointing.”

Michael Skene, president of Boulevard Transportation Group, was at Tuesday’s council meeting to discuss results from a study that looked into options regarding conversion of the couplet.

Skene said the one-way couplet, which was constructed in the early 1980s, currently meets the needs of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure; therefore, the ministry is not eager to convert it to a single highway for beautification reasons.

Although the district doesn’t have any jurisdiction over the Highway 97 corridor, it could still take on a couplet conversion using its own funds.

But, with a price tag of approximately $40 million, council agreed that wasn’t a realistic option.

“It’s really not affordable. We could do it, but we’d be sacrificing everything else,” said Findlater.

Skene recommended the district discontinue leading the initiative to convert the couplet into a single, two-way road and focus its efforts on beautification of Main Street, Brown Road and Elliott Road.

Based on the Westbank Centre Revitalization Plan, the cost of streetscaping, traffic calming and other beautification work is estimated to be $4.2 million; however, Skene said the district has control over that cost.

“We have to devote our resources and our time to what is achievable and affordable,” said Findlater, adding the district might consider planting more trees along Main Street to “deaden some of the sound” caused by noisy vehicles travelling along the Highway 97 corridor.

Coun. Rick de Jong, who made the issue of couplet conversion a key part of his campaign in 2011, said Tuesday’s news was a “difficult pill to swallow.”

“Simply put, the job of MoTI is to move traffic. The couplet, the way it is now, moves traffic very well, unfortunately for us,” said de Jong.

“Neither the science nor the dollars support dealing with the couplet in any way, shape or fashion at this point in time.”

Coun. Gord Milsom said it was important for council to give clarity to downtown business owners by making a decision Tuesday.

“I think it would be irresponsible to our taxpayers to invest $40 million at this time,” said Milsom.

West Kelowna’s next steps will be to initiate a public process to outline the recommended strategy, update the Westbank Centre Revitalization Plan, meet with MoTI to discuss the district’s change in direction and include Main Street, Elliott Road and Brown Road beautification projects in the 2014 budget.

wpaterson@kelownacapnews.com