A major route connecting the South to the Central Okanagan is still closed following a rockslide near Summerland, B.C. earlier this week.
The closure of a portion of Highway 97 has halted traffic to local businesses during an already difficult time.
“Very difficult. Highway 97 is an arterial route through the Okanagan and having it blocked off is very difficult for all the communities. There’s a terrific amount of inter-valley transportation that goes back and forth, and everybody’s been affected,” said Penticton MLA Dan Ashton.
“If Highway 1 in the Lower Mainland was shut down, people would have to divert. Can you imagine people being diverted up and over to Pemberton and down the See the Sky Highway into Vancouver or being directed into the United States – This is our route. This is our livelihood in the valley.”
Highway 97 rockslide: ‘No estimate for when it may reopen’
Little Acre Fruit Stand is located along the highway and although drivers can still access the store from the North, owner Kyle Marsh says it’s the slowest he’s ever been.
“A lot of food will be going to waste really at a brutal time of year. People are hurting in the Okanagan because of the travel ban and I know business is down all over the valley, but this is kind of catastrophic what’s happening here because no one’s using the road,” said Marsh.
“People think the roads closed before my business which is closed a kilometer up the road near North Beach Road. I went from booming with business to an absolute bust, there is no one on the road anymore which I rely on for business.”
With business already struggling, local officials are reminding the public that the South Okanagan is still open and can be reached via alternate routes.
“It’s very difficult to get the cut off quickly but now we need to get the word out. The South Okanagan is incredibly beautiful, especially in September. Some so many features and functions are taking place,” said Ashton.
“Access from the Lower Mainland is directly off Highway 3 and now opportunities are coming very quickly along the 201 Forest Service Road or behind Summerland.”
Drone view of a rock slide on Highway 97 near Summerland, B.C.
“We recognize that the highway closure is certainly inconvenient and causing our patients and staff longer distances to get the care that they need. We are proud to say that services have not been interrupted and we have had minimal if not any patient impact,” said Kelowna General Hospital Clinical Operations executive director Danielle Cameron.
“Unfortunately, this is something that we have had to deal with before in terms of having that highway closed off, so we have switched some of our services to virtual connection, and just ensuring that patients know what to expect in adjusting their travel time.”
The Ministry of Transportation told Global News on Wednesday that while assessments are ongoing it is too early to say when the portion of highway will reopen.
“We recognize the impacts of this and we’re working very hard to get a timeline,” said Steve Sirett, executive director for the Southern Interior region.
“That monitoring is only going to continue to pick up and that will be the first sort of indication for us on if and when we might be able to get the highway open and also what we might need to do in the long term to address the slide concerns.”
3,000 cubic meters of rock close to Highway 97 between Summerland and Peachland
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On Thursday the province announced two additional detour routes for drivers aside from the neighboring highways 97C, 5A, or 33
For those traveling between Penticton and Kelowna, 201 Forest Service Road is available and can be accessed off Highway 33 near McCulloch Road in Kelowna or via Carmi Avenue in Penticton.
Drivers traveling between Summerland and Peachland can use the Trout Main to Peachland Forest Service Road.
“We’ve had crews out there since yesterday [Wednesday], grading the road, putting up signage and directional signage and that work is continuing,” said Sirett.
“I’m confident we will be able to open Highway 97, we want to make sure we’re limiting people’s detours as much as possible. Certainly, when we get into the work and get into the long-term repairs, there may be a need for continued or ongoing closures so these routes will continue to be maintained and an option for us as we need them.”
Both forest services roads are open to passenger vehicle traffic and light commercial vehicles as heavy as 14,600 kilograms gross vehicle weight.
Larger trucks are being asked to detour through the highways.
More blasting along Highway 97 near Summerland
Local officials though calling for action and a plan in light of several recent closures.
“I know myself and many people have often been promoting a secondary route. This is the only place in the Okanagan Valley between Penticton and Kelowna, where we don’t have a secondary route on the opposite side of the highway, or even on this side of the highway or mountain range,” said Ashton.
“I know the ministry is establishing temporary markings and that they have graders up there working. I would just like to see it done as permanent marking so that people when they get on the 201, can get down into Kelowna safely and be directed properly when possible.”
The ministry is encouraging drivers to check Drive BC for the most up-to-date information.
Highway 97 near Summerland closed again