A long-term solution to the Highway 97 traffic issues in Peachland will be delayed for up to 20 years.
While the second phase of the Peachland Transportation Study, originally launched in 2015, has identified two long-term planning options, neither will be pursued at this time.
The announcement, presented to Peachland council by regional department of highways officials at Tuesday’s council meeting, was greeted with disappointment by Mayor Cindy Fortin and the councillors.
Fortin called the decision “a tough one to swallow” given the work already done in the planning process combined with the importance of upgrading the Highway 97 corridor to Peachland’s immediate future economic development.
“People who want to see the four-laning of the highway go ahead are going to be disappointed,” Fortin said.
Steve Sirett, regional highways manager, told council the long-term solution delay was based on current traffic volumes along with several short- and medium-term intersection improvements in the works for Peachland’s share of Highway 97.
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He noted in particular approval for the design process to proceed for upgrading the Trepanier Bench Road intersection, which will lead to a likely project cost estimate within about a year, to be followed by getting provincial funding.
“Trepanier Road is a priority…we heard that loud and clear. Approval for the design process to make that project tender-ready will lead to another step of getting funding approval, but it is a good step forward,” Sirett said.
But councillors were unhappy about what they feel are short-term fixes to a traffic congestion and safety problem posed by Highway 97 traffic through the district that requires a longer-term alternative.
“I am very disappointed to hear we are not coming out of this with a definitive (long-term) recommendation,” said Coun. Keith Fielding.
“It paralyzes our capacity as a community to plan ahead going forward.”
Coun. Mike Kent said the decision will have a profound negative impact on Peachland’s ability to plan future economic development.
“As a council member, I feel that deferring this decision another 20 years is not acceptable,” Kent said.
“We will be hamstrung when it comes to development…I think the importance of this is not being communicated effectively to those in the decision-making process.”
Sirett said planning decisions can proceed based on the current status of the highway, as many changes could impact what is required for Highway 97 upgrades 20 years from now.
“It is a challenge and I appreciate that, but our decision is based on traffic elements, and what issues we are looking at 20 years from now may be different than what we think about now,” he added.
“Part of that is how the community redevelops over those next 20 years. It could be we have to look at this a lot sooner than 20 years depending how the community changes and grows. ”
But some councillors questioned the current planning process underway might end up being shelved in the future, at a time when the ministry is starting a major online survey push from Aug. 12 to Sept. 4 to gather public input about the various short, middle and long-term highway upgrade options.
For more information about those public feedback initiatives, go to www.engage.gov.bc/peachlandstudy.