A roadside memorial along Highway 97 as it hugs along Wood Lake is shown in this photo taken Thursday. The longtime efforts to have a new Highway 97 bypass built will come to fruition today as the new section of highway officially opens.
For several years, former Lake Country town councillor Noreen Guenther kept detailed records of every accident, and the resulting injuries and fatalities, that happened along the highway between Winfield and Oyama.
"For awhile, it had the second- or third-highest fatality rate per kilometre of any stretch of road in B.C.," Guenther, a nurse, recalled Thursday.
Three people were killed in accidents along the two-lane, nine kilometre stretch of highway just in 2007. During a five-year period, the highway was closed 14 times because of accidents or rock fall.
"Getting a new highway built became a top priority for us," said Guenther, who was on town council from 2005-2011.
She and other town officials would often refer to the grim statistics when meeting with their provincial and federal counterparts.
"It took several years of lobbying, because there's always a lot of people clamoring for transportation money," said Lake Country Mayor James Baker. "But we knew we had a good case to make, so we just kept making it, every chance we could."
The lobbying campaign wasn't without its humour. "Noreen had these little jars of jam made up, called 'Traffic Jam Jars', and distributed them at every meeting we were at," recalled Randy Rose, a now-retired Lake Country town administrator.
byAll those persuasive efforts culminate today, with the opening of the $79-million, four-lane bypass built in the hills above Wood Lake. The project, under construction for more than two years, was financed 60 per cent by the province, and 40 per cent by the federal government.
The public is invited to a community celebration beginning at 1 p.m., with politicians making speeches an hour later. The event takes place at the south end of the bypass, near the intersection of Oceola Road and Highway 97. Flaggers will direct people to parking off Pretty Road.
The Lake Country fire department was called out to the accidents that occurred on the existing stretch of Highway 97 more times than chief Steve Windsor cares to remember.
"It's such a narrow, unforgiving road," Windsor said. "If there was a bit of inattention on a driver's part, or the road surface was compromised with rain or snow, there might have been only two options: go into the rockface, or go into the lake."