Still no date to fix ‘potentially serious’ safety issue on Highway 3

Numerous cars damaged at site west of Keremeos, yet government officials won't say when repairs will start

Highway 3 near Keremeos was closed in January for several days due to a rockslide.

Highway 3 near Keremeos was closed in January for several days due to a rockslide.

Keremeos Rock Slide FOI by Joe Fries

It’s still unknown when safety improvements will begin on a stretch of Highway 3 near Keremeos where an unstable hillside has let loose repeatedly with “potentially serious consequences.”

The four-lane highway was closed for several days in January when rocks, some as large as cars, slid down the slope and onto the road about nine kilometres west of town, damaging two vehicles in the process.

There were six smaller slides at the site through March of this year, which followed an incident in 2003 that damaged four vehicles there, according to a government report obtained through a freedom of information request.

“Therefore a total of eight recorded rock fall events have occurred with potentially serious consequences,”  Transportation Ministry engineer Steve Pollak wrote to colleagues in a March 2014 email that outlines repair options.

“There have been a total of six vehicles damaged here, which is a relatively high number for historically few rock fall events,” he wrote a month later.

Further slides, resulting in road closures and damaged vehicles, were reported at the site in May and June.

Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer said he’ll be happy to see the slope fixed for good.

“Safety is the No. 1 issue, there’s no doubt about it,” said Bauer, who isn’t concerned about the length of time it’s taken to get a repair in place.

“My guess is they have priorities in regard to road maintenance, perhaps in other areas where they have rock slides, because right now when you look at the traffic, it’s not an issue, everybody can get through,” he said.

Transportation Ministry spokesman Darren Harbord said in a written statement in early September that “a number of steps” have to take place before two phases of safety improvements at the site can begin, including a geotechnical assessment, engineering design work and acquiring materials.

Those materials include hundreds of large, concrete blocks that will be used to build a wall three metres high at the base of the unstable slope in what is now the westbound slow lane to catch any more material that lets loose, he explained, which will allow the highway to reopen to three lanes of traffic.

Harbord, who’s no longer with the ministry, said the work was expected to begin in mid-September, but the contract to place those blocks, which are already at the site, is still open for bids.

Communications staff at the ministry did not respond this week to a request for an update on the project timeline.

The second phase of the repair job, likely next year, according to Harbord, will include excavation of the upper slope to create a wider ditch and larger rock catchment area, followed by restoration of the highway to four lanes.