Highway 97 closure: Frontage road to be repurposed as rockslide bypass in Okanagan

The Ministry of Transportation says plans are place for a much shorter detour around the rockslide near Summerland that’s cut Highway 97 in two.

Those plans, however, will take time, with the ministry projecting between four and five days before Callan Road will be ready for traffic.

“Following a detailed safety assessment by geotechnical engineers, and the establishment of movement-monitoring equipment, we are working with local First Nations to get construction underway on a detour around the slide using Callan Road,” said Paula Cousins, deputy director of the Southern Interior region.

“The work for this detour will involve bringing in significant fill to build a two-lane connection upwards from Callan Road to Highway 97 on the south side of the slide. The detour will be built to also accommodate commercial vehicles and work will occur using two 10-hour shifts per day.”

Cousins noted that eight pieces of heavy equipment is already on site and that work is expected to take four to five days to complete, “provided there are no unexpected challenges that arrive.”

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Highway 97 closure continues after rockslides

Cousins also said remote monitoring equipment that was installed on Wednesday “is continuing to record significant slope movement this morning, and Highway 97 will remain closed with no estimated time for reopening.”

The ministry said some hand-equipment drilling has resumed and there are eight scalers working on site.

“Due to the instability of the slope and the movement, heavier drilling equipment cannot be used at this time,” said Cousins.

It’s estimated that between 3,000 and 4,000 cubic metres of fill will be needed to construct the bypass. This week, the ministry estimated that the rockslide blocking Highway 97 was approximately 4,000 cubic metres.

On Tuesday, the ministry was hopeful that Highway 97 could be cleared for some traffic. On Wednesday, though, a significant crack was discovered on the slope that caused the rockslide. The crack was large enough that all rockslide work was stopped for safety concerns.

Currently, there are only two approved detours around the rockslide: One using Highways 97C, 5A, 3 and 3A (approximately 272 kilometres), and the 201 Forest Service Road (approximately 110 km).

Regarding the current detour routes, Cousins noted that the 201 Forest Service Road was not built for commercial vehicles. Cousins then added the Callan Road detour is being constructed to accommodate commercial vehicles.

“There is a significant amount of work to do at the slide site,” said Cousins. “If conditions and movement continue to restrict work to hand-drilling and blasting, it’s going to take us some time to get that work done.

“And that’s absolutely one of the key reasons why getting this connection is going to be key in getting traffic moving again.”

The Ministry of Transportation said between six and 11 millimetres of movement was

Callan Road is located below Highway 97, closer to Okanagan Lake. The ministry says the road has an intersection at one end, but it doesn’t connect back to the highway. The ministry’s plan is to build a connection about 50 to 75 metres south of the slide to reconnect it to the highway.

Cousins said the detour will accommodate one lane of traffic in either direction.

The ministry said it’s trying to determine just how big the slide area actually is. Between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday afternoon, the ministry said it measured between six and 11 millimetres of movement within the southern portion of the rockslope failure.

The ministry calls that amount of movement concerning.

Cousins was also asked how long it’ll take before Highway 97 returns to normal. Will it be months before traffic is flowing smoothly again?

“I would not use the term months at this point,” said Cousins. “I would say there is a considerable amount of work, and, unfortunately, we’re not in a position to give an estimated amount of time. But I would not be venturing to use the term months yet.”

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