West Kelowna commuters are no strangers to long drives to and from work, with many forming a clear view about why it’s become such a drawn-out process in recent years.
“There’s been times where working, it takes like an hour and a half to get from Mt. Boucherie Road to the bridge, and that should not be a thing at all,” Daniel Homer, a West Kelowna resident and commuter said.
“We definitely need another way to get across because we’ve got way too many people going to and back and forth on that bridge. And then not to mention all the commercial use of it.”
Gary Green, a Kelowna resident, also thinks that there should be another crossing.
“I mean, they’ve got to plan for it,” he said. “You know, look at what happened last 20 years, right? … Obviously, the population is going to grow.”
It’s not difficult to find commuters who share this belief but the province doesn’t. In July, they released their 20-year plan for transportation and re-announced its findings last week.
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A second crossing “has no overall network benefit, results in increases in network vehicle kilometers travelled and related GHG emissions, and provides only modest, localized relief to the W.R. Bennett Bridge.”
The finding is the result of a lengthy study period that included traffic surveys and community input.
That conclusion is of no surprise to B.C.’s transportation critic, Trevor Halford.
“When it comes to infrastructure, this government is absolutely failing the commuters of British Columbia,” Halford said. “It’s very unfortunate and it’s very short-sighted, and we’re all starting to pay the price.”
Dan Rogers, Kelowna Chamber of Commerce CEO, said given that the regional population is expected to grow by 50,000 by 2040, accommodating that change should be prioritized.
“We’ve been hearing for almost over a year that this project was totally shelved,” Rogers said.
“We appreciate that the minister responded to our correspondents to confirm that, and now we’ve seen the plan that has come out that clearly makes it evident that there’s no major investments planned for any highway improvements in the region, not just the second crossing.”
That, he said, is a crisis in the making.
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“We’re continuing to make the case that because of the massive population growth, that the investment needs to be there, and we’ll continue to watch provincial budgets and make the case for investment and planning, then obviously getting on with the infrastructure improvements,” he said.
Steve Sirett, the Ministry of Transportation’s Southern Interior executive director, said the strategy outlines a number of projects over the next 20 years that need various levels of additional engineering.
Included in the planning are intersection improvements in Peachland; the removal of the Highway 97 couplet in West Kelowna; the creation of the Boucherie Road and Westlake Road interchanges; the extension of Clement Avenue in Kelowna; and improvements to the Commonwealth Road and GlenmoreBeaver Lake corridor in Lake Country.
And, of course, the WR Benett Bridge. Instead of building a new bridge, the province’s report recommends adding an additional eastbound lane to the existing bridge
“The bridge itself in its current configuration has lots of capacity for years to come — the congestion is from the corridor leading up to it and the amount of intersections we have,” Sirett said.
“A big focus of the study is how we make traffic move more efficiently — how do we shift more people into transit — how to move more people in less trips,” he said.
The ministry has not said which projects will be prioritized. At this time, engineering is underway to understand what needs to be built, before construction can actually begin — and once that is done, it can look at how much funding is needed over the next 20 years.
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