“Four-and-a-half years ago you told the city you wanted an underpass and here it is,” announced Steve Fabro while MC’ing for the grand opening of the Ross Street Underpass.
A large crowd of people gathered at the intersection of Ross Street and Lakeshore Drive at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, May 17, for the grand opening of the underpass connecting the city’s downtown to the waterfront.
Fabro’s comment referred to a referendum in the 2018 municipal election, when a majority of Salmon Arm voters (3,486 to 2,069) supported the city borrowing $5.3 million to construct the underpass. At that time, it was estimated the project would cost around $12.5 million. As of 2021, the cost of the project had risen to $20.2 million.
Seated by Fabro at the event were several dignitaries/guests, including Secwépemc Knowledge Keeper Louis Thomas who opened the event with a welcome and blessing – which he led into with a bit of humour.
“When they approached me about this underpass a couple of years ago, I suggested a catapult,” said Thomas. “I don’t think they liked the idea so they went for a tunnel instead.”
Neskonlith Kukpi7 (Chief) Irvin Wai, Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold and Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo shared congratulations and words of gratitude to everyone who contributed towards bringing the underpass to fruition. Kyllo noted that along the way there were some challenges, but “through collaboration and with the assistance of CP Rail, there was a number of people that came together to actually put this together.”
Next to speak was Salmon Arm Mayor Alan Harrison who also focused on giving credit where due, beginning with the late Vic Bates who he said envisioned “a waterfront where the residents of Salmon Arm would live in harmony with nature.”
“He saw a place where we could walk, we could view grebes, hawks and eagles. Minutes from our homes and businesses. It takes a community to make that happen,” said Harrison, also crediting the support of the Salmon Arm Bay Nature Enhancement Society.
The mayor proceeded to recognize the contributions of city councils past and present, former and current city administrators Carl Bannister and Erin Jackson, CP Rail and its director of government affairs, Mike LoVecchio, Kyllo and others who have been partners in the project. Harrison gave special acknowledgement to city engineer Jennifer Wilson and engineering and public works director Rob Niewenhuizen, who he said have “lived this project every day for six years.”
“Thank you. Every time there was a challenge they took it on. Jen and Rob, without you, we wouldn’t be here today,” said Harrison.
The mayor also acknowledged “our true heroes,” the ones who “did the most difficult work, managing a construction zone with 30 trains a day passing through it, building a temporary shoofly bypass, shimmying huge plates of steel to stabilize the site, rerouting services around the underpass, and designing and installing a pump system to keep the roadway clear of water.
“You might have been here last Friday, we had a downpour,” said Harrison. “Many of us rushed to the Ross Street underpass. Not a drop in the bottom. Thank you to those engineers.”
LoVecchio called the completed project a quantum leap forward for safety in the community, and thanked the city for championing the project and seeing it through. He also thanked CP staff who were involved in the project.
“This was a massive, massive project delivered well and delivered on time and on budget. We should all be very proud of what we’ve achieved today and I thank you for the opportunity to be a part of it,” said LoVecchio.
Representing downtown Salmon Arm businesses, Bill Laird also shared a bit of local history on the railway in Salmon Arm, along with thanks and gratitude to those who worked on the project.
“Many of the people who worked on this were local and we don’t know that when we just drive past it, that they came from Salmon Arm, Tappen, Enderby, Vernon and Kelowna, this is a huge saving for us, the owner…,” said Laird.
With the opening of the Ross Street Underpass, the railway crossing at Marine Park Drive is now closed.
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