We didn’t really need another reminder, but the rock slide that closed Highway 97 shows just how much we need another connection between the Central and South Okanagan.
Yes, there is the 201 Forest Service Road route, but some 70 kilometres of gravel road is not something anyone looks forward to, especially in the middle of a deep freeze, no matter how well-maintained it is.
These closures of the highway are rare, but they aren’t the only reason a paved alternate route is needed. The population of the B.C. Interior is growing, especially in the Okanagan, as people look for properties outside the overpriced Lower Mainland housing market.
It’s a situation that can only continue to grow with seniors look for retirement properties, young families search for their first home, or even vacation condos; people will continue to look to the Interior.
Paving the 201 and bringing it up to highway standards is going to be costly — that is all the more reason to get started on it now. No one expects a highway to be built overnight, but laying out a plan to improve it year by year, section by section, could bring us an alternate highway in a couple of decades when the population of the Interior is an order of magnitude greater.
If the province waits 20 years until the need is desperate, it’s only going to cost more and still take years to build.
There’s also commerce to consider. The current closure is delaying shipping of all kind, as well as slowing, if not stopping, people from getting to jobs and shopping in other communities.
In the meantime, a good start to improving the 201 route would be the installation of new and clear directional signs to guide drivers as they commute.