February 6, 2019 2:48 pm
Updated: February 6, 2019 10:00 pm

UPDATE: Highway 97 closure in Okanagan could last days

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UPDATE:

The Ministry of Transportation says it could be days before Highway 97 in the Okanagan is open to traffic again.

In a media call on Wednesday afternoon, Mike Lorimer, executive director of highway operations for the Southern Interior region, said “a new and significant crack in the slope was discovered this morning, just after scaling crews arrived. They, unfortunately, had to be pulled off the site due to safety concerns.

“The new development means that the highway will not be able to reopen today. And at this point, there is no current estimated time to reopen.”

Lorimer added “it’s safe to say that we are at least looking at a few days at this point.”

An aerial view of the slope and the rockslide near Summerland that has closed Highway 97 in the Okanagan.

Ministry of Transportation

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Asked for a specific date when the highway will reopen, Lorimer said “if I had the crystal ball to do that, I would love to.”

On Saturday, Highway 97 was closed because of a rockslide between Peachland and Summerland. Approximately 4,000 cubic metres of rock and dirt cascaded across the highly travelled route.

At first, the ministry suggested just one detour route: A lengthy trek involving Highway 97C, Highway 5A and Highways 3 and 3A, a distance of 272 kilometres. Recently, though, a second route was approved: the 201 Forest Service Road on the east side of Okanagan Lake. The 201 detour has an approximate length of 110 km.

It’s believed this is the third rockslide or slope issue near Summerland that has closed Highway 97, with the other two taking place in 2008 and 2014.

Lorimer was asked if the province has plans for a second route between the Central Okanagan and the South Okanagan, should another rockslide block Highway 97.

“The detour routes here are not ideal by any stretch of the imagination,” said Lorimer. “So whether it’s looking at some of the options that are there, whether there’s better choices we could use for detours, should that occur in the future, but, at this point, a second Okanagan highway is not in the cards.”

Lorimer also said “B.C. highways travel some pretty challenging terrain. Rockfall, slides, debris flows, while obviously that’s something we work to avoid, they are things that we do encounter.

“This is a fairly unusual event in the fact that often what we see is a failure and then we are able to assess it and then begin work on the cleanup. This continual nature is a bit concerning for us because of the unusual nature and the time of year.

“First and foremost, we want to get the road open, we want to get people moving. Then [we’ll be] looking at the longer-term fixes.”

Wednesday’s discovery revealed that the new crack is 10 to 15 feet above the current slide and extends approximately 50 metres to the north and 50 metres to the south.

Survey equipment will be brought in for precise monitoring.

Also discussed in the media call was water taxis, and whether they’ll be an option for travelers.

“Lots of different options could be on the table as we look at the extent of the closure, when we get a better sense from the geotech about the length of it,” said Lorimer. “The 201 we know is a reliable route. There have been some questions about roads on the west side of the lake, so we are looking to see if there are some options there.

“One of the challenges with that water option, particularly with the weather we’re seeing, is there’s a reason there’s not a lot of boats on the lake right now, with those temperatures, those choppy winds. From a safety perspective, we’re quite concerned about doing that.

“We’re really focused on doing the ground-based options.”

There is a side access road, Callan Road, just metres from the slide, closer to the lake than Highway 97. However, for the time being, Lorimer said that’s not an option due to its proximity to the rockslide.

“It is potentially in the debris field of another slide,” he said. “So, for the same reason the highway is closed, Callan Road is not an option, but it is something we’re looking at. Whether we have an ability to connect it, whether there’s some options to use it, it’s one of the many things we’re looking at.”

ORIGINAL STORY:

Highway 97 in the Okanagan will remain closed for the immediate future after work crews discovered another crack in the slope that caused last weekend’s rockslide.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Transportation announced that scaling crews were pulled from the site after “a new and significant crack in the slope was discovered early this morning.” According to the ministry, the crack extends approximately 50 metres to the north and south of the current failure.

Another view of the slope and the rockslide that is covering Highway 97 in the Okanagan.

Ministry of Transportation

READ MORE: UPDATE: Ministry gives 50-50 chance of Hwy. 97 in Okanagan reopening on Wednesday

The ministry said because of this, the highway will not be able to reopen today, and there is no current estimated time for reopening.

Geotechnicial engineers have already begun assessment with a helicopter flight, and monitoring of this crack will continue today to determine when work can safety resume.

The alternate routes remain in place and the ministry is asking drivers to check DriveBC.ca and @DriveBC on Twitter for the most up-to-date information.

A rockslide that occurred Saturday morning has closed part of Highway 97 in the Okanagan. The closure is near Summerland.

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