Missing piece of rail trail could open this year

A Kelowna cyclist looks down the closed CP Rail line north of Old Vernon Road which is destined to become part of the Okanagan Rail Trail.

Construction of the Okanagan Rail Trail's missing link between Kelowna International Airport and Lake Country could be completed this year.

That's "the collective goal" of the City of Kelowna, District of Lake Country and Okanagan Indian Band, which signed a complex memorandum of understanding in February 2022.  

"It does involve transportation networks, water, sanitary, addition to reserve. There's a lot involved in that. I would say we are imminently close to where that finality is," said Matt Vader, Lake Country's manager of strategic and support services, on Monday. "We're working very diligently because we fully understand and support the value of opening the Okanagan Rail Trail, that last unbuilt section, and I would expect that we would have information coming forthwith where that process is."

These are not political issues, he emphasized.

"All three of us are looking at this the exact same way. There is no negativity between any of the parties including the federal government,” Vader said. “It is complex because we're adding land back to a federal reserve that was taken from it pretty close to 100 years ago. This is a technical issue in terms of proper legal protection, the infrastructure and how this works on those agreements, not a political issue between any of those parties."

The goal of the three parties is construction this year, said Vader, noting the distance between Lake Country and Old Vernon Road is only 6.5 to 7.5 kilometres.

"It's not overly complicated in terms of cutting down and blending some gravel to make sure we have compaction. It's not like building a road,” he added. “A few months, I would say, is the construction timeline. I believe we can finish it this year. That is our collective goal. We're getting closer to being in the alignment where all parties believe that that is the same timeline."

The three local governments appreciate the efforts of Kelowna-Lake Country MP Tracy Gray as beneficial and supportive, he added.

On Monday morning, Gray updated Kelowna city council on the rail trail after two councillors asked specifically about the missing piece.

"I know that there are negotiations at the municipal level and I know that there is a lot of ongoing activity with that at the federal level.  

I'll keep pressing the government that whatever they need to do that they're doing. I'll be tenacious on this issue,” she promised. I'll just keep pressing the government in every way that I can using the parliamentary tools that I have," she said.

In the memorandum of understanding, the band agreed to provide access to the Okanagan Rail Trail once the federal government adds the railway land to its reserve.

Another major element will see the three jurisdictions work together to have Commonwealth Road opened as an arterial access to Jim Bailey Road from Highway 97 to address capacity issues on Beaver Lake Road.

The City of Kelowna will take the lead on that project and work with the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to improve the road to handle truck and car traffic. There will be public consultation with businesses and residents in the area.

The City of Kelowna has already agreed to a number of conditions with the owners of the Eldorado Ranch on Old Vernon Road north of the airport to allow one-half of the last piece through its agricultural land.