Traffic volume through Peachland has increased 10 per cent in the past year, according to a count conducted by a citizens’ group that’s asking the government to consider a new highway bypass around the community.
Volunteers for the Highway 97 Task Force Society surveyed traffic on Drought Hill just north of Peachland from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on a Friday in late July. They counted a total of 20,307 vehicles pass by in both directions, according to Bert Put, who co-ordinated the effort.
“It’s certainly not a scientific way of determining this, but it gives you a good idea,” said the retired engineer.
Put compared the data to a count conducted in the same location on a Friday in July 2012 by the B.C. Transportation Ministry that tallied 18,404 vehicles.
The 600-member task force is worried that, when the time comes for road work, the B.C. government will simply widen the existing highway to four lanes rather than build a bypass.
Not only would that impact the character of Peachland, Put added, but it would also affect the lakefront that runs from Antlers Beach to Drought Hill.
“That’s the longest public beach in all of the Okanagan and we want to preserve that,” he said.
Put would prefer a seven-kilometre bypass that veers off the highway near Greta Ranch south of Peachland and hooks up with Highway 97 C south of West Kelowna.
Armed with the new traffic data, the task force will now ask the Transportation Ministry to conduct a business case to study that proposal.
Ministry spokesperson Kate Trotter said in a statement that all options are still on the pavement.
“The ministry has not made any decisions regarding the long-term plans for the highway with regards to whether future four-laning is completed on the current alignment or along a new route,” she said.
Trotter didn’t specify a timeline for when those decisions would be made, nor if a business case would be initiated.
“As with any project, future work would have to be looked at in context with broader priorities,” she said.
Penticton MLA Dan Ashton said he’s met with ministry staff to explain Peachland’s desire for the new route.
“During the election process, I heard loud and clear they want that bypass, they want that study, and they want to get it done as soon as possible,” he said.
Ashton plans to bring the the request for a business case to a future meeting with the transportation minister, “and we’ll see where it fits into their budgetary process,” he said. “I don’t know when that will be though.”
When the new four-lane section of Highway 97 between Oyama and Winfield opens today, the stretch through Peachland will be the last two-lane portion of the route between Vernon and Penticton.