The Highway 97 corridor through Westbank First Nation land will be the scene of another major construction project next year.
Plans were announced Friday by the provincial government to build a $9.3-million tunnel under the highway between Campbell Road and Westside Road.
The tunnel will link to a new road, running parallel to the highway, that connects to a shopping centre built recently on band land. It will also provide direct vehicle access to the site where the band plans to build a new for-profit medical centre.
Work is to start in the spring and be complete by the fall.
"During construction, all five lanes of Highway 97 traffic will be rerouted around the construction site to ensure that the construction can be completed safely and efficiently, and to minimize traffic disruptions," states part of a government press release issued Friday afternoon.
Despite the assurances of minimal impact on traffic, some Westside community leaders predicted drivers will now face even more delays in an area that's already undergone tens of millions of dollars worth of construction projects.
"I think it's wrong the way the government announces something like this, out of the blue, without any kind of public consultation," said Rita Milne, president of the Lakeview Heights Community Association.
"It seems like it's only really for the benefit of the Westbank First Nation, but the construction project is going to impact a lot of drivers every day for months," Milne said.
West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater said he didn't fully understand the rationale for the tunnel. However, he noted the anticipated roadworks would also provide a second access to West Kelowna's waterfront neighbourhood of Casa Loma.
The government will cover the costs of the tunnel, with the band paying for an extension of Sneena Road, which runs behind the new Okanagan Lake shopping centre.
Victoria says construction of the tunnel relates to commitments made to the WFN in 2005 when planning was underway for the William R. Bennett Bridge. Engineering documents also show a separate, westward extension of Sneena Road connecting through to Boucherie Road.
"There will be some impact of that on West Kelowna's road network," Findlater said. "Our staff are assessing it and are in consultation with the province."