Freeway-style alternative to Highway 97

A high-speed freeway-style bypass, shown in red with interchanges indicated by white circles, was once touted as a solution for Kelowna’s traffic woes. City councillors on Monday moved away from the plan, saying it would be too costly and unnecessary if a second lake crossing is not built.

The downgrading of the Clement Avenue extension from high-speed bypass to ordinary city street was endorsed Monday by Kelowna city council.

It makes practical and financial sense to shift away from historic plans that envision a costly freeway with seven interchanges, councillors agreed.

Driving the city’s change in direction is a growing sense that a second bridge across Okanagan Lake is fast falling down the Ministry of Transportation’s priority list.

“The second crossing — we’re not sure if it’s going to happen or not,” Rafael Villareal, a transportation planner, told council.

“It’s difficult to say the concept is dead, but the reality is we don’t know if it’s going to happen in 20 or 25 years,” he said.

The ministry, council heard, now favours increasing the carrying capacity of the existing Highway 97 corridor rather than building a second bridge.

If a second bridge isn’t in the cards, Clement Avenue, which currently dead-ends at Spall Road, could be extended toward McCurdy Road as an ordinary arterial road at much less cost than building it as a freeway.

Aside from its cost and complexity of construction, the necessity of a freeway-style bypass is undermined by the fact that only 13% of bridge traffic is headed for destinations outside the Central Okanagan.

A revised plan for the Clement Avenue extension shows it as a four-lane road with traffic lights at intersections such as Dilworth Drive, Highway 33 and McCurdy Road.

Such an extension, staff said, would help relieve traffic pressure on Harvey Avenue, Enterprise Way and Springfield Road.

“I like the direction you’re going with this,” Coun. Luke Stack told staff. “It seems like a practical way forward . . . I just see this extension as being a useful road.”

Coun. Gail Given said there was “great wisdom” in converting the Clement Avenue extension from a freeway-style bypass to an arterial road.

“While we haven’t totally written off the second crossing, the evidence points in a different direction,” Given said.

Coun. Charlie Hodge also voiced support for abandoning the freeway-and-interchange plan, worrying that such a major project would harm wetlands. Hodge said it was his own “wishful thinking” that a second crossing and freeway bypass never be built.