Fully reopening Highway 97 to four lanes north of Summerland is still “months, not weeks” away from happening.
Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) representative Erik Lachmuth gave the update on the work to the board of the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen on Feb. 8.
Crews have been blasting and hauling away rock from the North Beach slide area for months, working to clear and stabilize the mountainside since the large landslide in August of 2023.
MoTI is still working on a final design for how they will stabilize the mountainside, which will determine when the highway will be expected to reopen.
“I can’t give you a timeline right now for when we’re going to be back to four lanes, but we’re still in the period of months, not weeks at this point for getting there,” said Lachmuth.
The massive scale of operations and the amount of material being hauled away was recognized by Summerland Mayor Doug Holmes, who praised the efforts of all involved.
“It’s incredible the amount of rock that’s been moved out of there and how much more needs to be moved, you can’t even imagine how much is gone on there, ” said Holmes. “The amount of hours, night and day that they’re working, it’s absolutely an enormous project.”
Other directors noted that they appreciated the work being done, but expressed concerns about the ongoing closures for blasting as the weather warms up and the valley approaches the busy tourist season.
Director Helena Konanz pointed out the particularly extensive delay on Thursday, Feb. 7 as an example that might turn away visitors where lines of people built up and were waiting more than an hour past the expected end of the closure before they started moving.
“It was a planned closure 11 [a.m.] to 12:30 [p.m.], we got to Peachland at 12:30 and we waited until 1:30,” said Konanz. “The lineup was massive before we got moving. So you can understand what this is doing to our region right now economically, on top of everything else that has happened.”
Lachmuth noted that the extended closure was not planned, and was due to experimental work involving the use of a helicopter to hang mesh along the rockface, but that there had been issues with that approach.
A possible review of the amount and the location of the signage regarding the closures would be passed on the slide team as well.
The MoTI representative also noted that a report the project was only 11 per cent towards completion was seriously inaccurate, however he did not comment on the exact state of the operation, only that completion was still months away.
He also noted that the Ministry wanted to make sure that the work was done properly and completely to make sure they didn’t have to return to the area again any time soon.
The area where work is being done also saw a slide and highway closures in 2019, which lasted for over a month. Further back from the area saw a major slide in 2014 that caused major closures.
Lachmuth also said that the Ministry was aware of concerns about the loss of the highway and the need for an alternate route in the event of a natural disaster.