The province celebrated 50 per cent completion of the new section of Highway 97 between Winfield and Oyama Thursday with a bang.
During a ceremony on site, provincial Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom, along with federal MP Ron Cannan and Lake Country Mayor James Baker triggered an explosion that leveled a hillside peak above the existing Highway 97, near the intersection with Gatzke Road.
“This new four-lane section of Highway 97 between Winfield and Oyama will benefit all Okanagan Valley residents and businesses,” said Lekstrom. “From families taking their children to the beach or sports tournaments, to commercial drivers transporting their goods safely and efficiently, to visitors exploring the Okanagan’s orchards and wineries, all motorists will enjoy this wider, safer stretch of highway.”
As it has done in recent years on other major provincial construction projects—including the William R. Bennett Bridge—the government used the halfway point of the $77.9-million Highway 97 roadwork to celebrate work and publicly thank the 250 men and women who are, or have worked on the nine-kilometre stretch of new road.
The section of the highway is located above the existing Highway 97, which, in parts, is only two lanes wide.
In past years, the existing stretch of road has seen many serious traffic accidents and regular congestion. In lobbying for work to start to widen the road back in 2005, Lake Country council gave provincial and federal politicians jars of “traffic” jam in a bid to raise awareness of the need to make the stretch of Highway 97 safer.
Funding by the province ($44.3 million) and the federal government ($33.6 million), the new piece of road is expected to be complete by the summer of 2013.
Project manager Kyle Webb, of contractor Windley Contracting Inc., said depending on this winter’s weather, that timeline will be met and the road will come in on budget. He said the project has gone smoothly. In January a large rock from the project careened down hill from the work and landed on the existing road below. Since then berms have been put in place to stop that from happening again.
Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick noted that the road project here was one of 600 along Highway 97 from the B.C.-Washington border to the B.C.-Alaska border that money was applied for through provincial and federal infrastructure funds. It was also one of the few that was actually awarded funding. Lekstom said that was because the government recognized the need to deal with a bottleneck on a strategic transportation route in the B.C. Interior.
“This will replace the last two-lane section of highway between the Okanagan Connector and Vernon,” said Letnick. It will improve safety for Okanagan families who use the highway and will help generate new opportunities in trade and tourism all along the Okanagan corridor.”
On the new stretch of road, near Oyama, a new Gatzke Road overpass is taking shape with completion of that part of the project scheduled for August. At the south end of the project, the walls are being installed for construction of the Wood Lake overpass.
Two steel pipes that will serve as underpasses for local access to nearby orchards and recreational areas have been placed along the new route. Measures have also been taken to protect bat habitat in an environmentally sensitive area, said project officials.
To date, one-million cubic metres of rock and soil have been excavated and moved on the site.