Letnick: Highway expansion benefits all through Central OK

Highway 97 is a significant thoroughfare for commercial traffic, which makes this project economically important…

It’s been a long road—pardon the pun—but I couldn’t be more thrilled that the six-laning of Highway 97 has taken a major step toward completion. (See Hwy 97 to be six lanes Edwards south to Hwy 33, page A6.)

In early March, we announced the $36-million contract awarded to Emil Anderson Construction Inc. for the second phase of this $60-million project.

We know Kelowna and its surrounding communities continue to grow. That’s why it’s vital to invest in the infrastructure we need to meet increasing demand.

Highway 97 is also a significant thoroughfare for commercial traffic, which makes this project important from an economic perspective as well as it helps get goods to market faster.

The project will see 4.5 kilometres of Highway 97 widened to six lanes, in addition to upgrades to major intersections at Leathead, McCurdy, Findlay/Hollywood and Sexsmith Roads.

Meanwhile, the realignment of Rutland Road will reduce congestion and increase separation between Highway 97 and Rutland Road. The ministry aims to keep traffic disruptions to a minimum during construction. Upon completion motorists, transit users, and cyclists will enjoy increased convenience and efficiency, as well as improved safety.

We couldn’t undertake a project like this without the positive working relationship we enjoy with other levels of government and the community, who play a big role in the extensive decision-making process that goes into large infrastructure projects like this one.

The Ministry of Transportation starts by identifying needs along the transportation system. Then, public engagement is woven through the project delivery process. Engaging local government, First Nations and stakeholders during each stage helps to ensure we understand the community needs and local perspective on problems.

Once the needs are identified, the ministry carries out project development work to identify specific problems and develop various options to address them.

The next step is to evaluate each of the options and choose a preferred one. The ministry does this by using a Multiple Accounts Evaluation system, which contains a cost-benefit analysis.

This evaluation assesses options using five considerations: Financial, customer service, environmental, social and economic development. The content includes input from local governments, First Nations and stakeholders to address their needs and concerns. This evaluation allows the ministry to compare the benefits and impacts of each option and assists engineers in recommending a preferred option.

Next, a business case is prepared and is used to decide if the option identified is worth the investment. As projects proceed, changes that may affect the cost are also brought forward for approval. These checks and balances help ensure that projects stay on budget and deliver good value for money.

We know the community is eager to see the end result of this project and the increased capacity, convenience and improved safety to come. That’s why it’s so important we get it right.

Our team has been working hard for two-and-a-half years to produce a design that meets the needs of the community not just today, but tomorrow as well.

We appreciate the public’s patience and input, and look forward to construction starting early this spring.