The province is spending $2.5 million to improve safety on a stretch of Highway 97 between the turnoff for the UBC Okanagan campus and Commonwealth Road in Lake Country.
The nine-kilometre stretch will have a concrete median installed in two phases, with the first, 7.5-kilometres between UBCO and just north of Duck Lake, slated for completion by early September. The second phase, a 1.5-kilometre stretch, has several business accesses along it and will be the subject of public consultation. It is expected to be complete by early 2016.
The work, announced by local MLAs Norm Letnick (Kelowna-Lake Country) and Steve Thomson (Kelowna-Mission) Friday came just hours after a serious crash the highway just north of Kelowna where a car and a truck collided after the car’s driver attempted to do a U-turn on the road. If the medians had been in place, such a move would not have been possible.
Three people were sent to hospital with serious injuries as a result of the crash and part of Highway 97 was closed for several hours.
Letnick said the plan to install the concrete medians is part of the government’s new 10-year B.C. On The Move transportation plan. The plan will see $2.5 billion spent on transportation infrastructure around the province, with $750 million of that earmarked for road safety programs over the next three years.
According to the transportation ministry, the decision to install median barriers on the stretch of Highway 97 north of Kelowna and south of Lake Country was made last year following an engineering safety review of the highway. The recommendation, it said, was driven by the risk of “crossover” accidents combined with high traffic volumes. Crossover accidents are where traffic moves into the oncoming lane, most often to pass another vehicle.
As many as 30,000 vehicles a day travel along the stretch of road to get the concrete medians and Letnick said there are an average of 20 accidents per year on that same stretch.
Both Lake Country Mayor James Baker and Okanagan Indian Band Chief Byron Lewis, who were on hand for the announcement, welcomed the safety improvement, saying the growing number of accidents on the road was a concern for both of them.
“We are very pleased the ministry has identified this section of Highway 97 for safety improvements in the form of median barriers to reduce serious, and sometimes fatal, motor vehicle accidents that claim innocent lives,” said Baker.
The work will be done during off-peak hours, likely at night, and will require single lane closures for safety during the installation.