DriveBC said there is no estimated time of reopening Highway 97 near Summerland after a weekend landslide shut down the major B.C. highway, causing commuter chaos.
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said rock scalers continue to work on the slope where the rockslide occurred on Saturday morning.
“The latest geotechnical assessment has been completed and the plan is to work at the top of the slope to locate solid rock to drill and blast,” the statement said.
“This will provide more stability for the slope, and allow ministry staff to remove all loose and unstable rock and eventually reopen the route. The first blast at the top of the slope will occur at approximately 3 p.m. this afternoon, and this will provide a better indication of how we will proceed and the expected timeline.”
The highway, which is the main route connecting Penticton to Kelowna, has been closed in both directions for more than 50 hours as crews scramble to remove debris from the highway.
“So far, between 4,000-6,000 cubic metres of rock has fallen at this location,” the ministry statement said.
“This is a significant amount of rock, as an Olympic swimming pool holds 2,500 cubic metres of water.”
Penticton MLA Dan Ashton is urging commuters to be patient.
“From what I’m hearing from the residents is the inconvenience but unfortunately these highways are built into mountainsides and cliff sides and there has been some stability issues” he said on Monday.
Some drivers expressed frustration on social media at the lengthy closure and suggested additional measures, such as a ferry service on Okanagan Lake, should be implemented to move traffic around the slide zone.
“This slide is literally on a cliff face and there are winds that are gusting 35-40 miles an hour out there, you can’t run ferries on Okanagan Lake like that,” Ashton said in response.
Ashton said people have to accept there is risk that comes with building highway passes in mountainous areas.
“We live in valleys, we live in mountains, this isn’t the prairies here and these highways are built in some pretty incredible spots… it’s basically an issue we have to deal with in mountainous areas,” he said.
The B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said an alternate route between Penticton and Kelowna is available for light vehicles (five tons or less), using the 201 Forest Service Road.
This is accessed off Highway 33 near McCollough Road near Kelowna, and via Warren Avenue/Carmi Avenue in Penticton.
Drivers using this route can expect up to 90 minutes of additional travel time compared to the normal travel time between Summerland and Peachland on Highway 97.
Heavier vehicles and commercial trucks are required to detour via Highway 97C, Highway 5A and Highway 3A to Highway 3.
Drivers are reminded to slow down and drive with caution when using the two-lane 201 Forest Service Road, and to check DriveBC.ca and @DriveBC on Twitter for updates on the Highway 97 closure.
“Safety is our top priority, and we will reopen the road as soon as it is safe to do so,” the ministry said.