BEYOND THE HEADLINES: A rough ride

Columnist Richard Rolke takes a look at the Ministry of Transportation and Stickle Road

When sound reasoning is lacking, speculation abounds.

That was the case last week when Vernon city council received the Ministry of Transportation’s draft 10-year transportation plan and noticed there was no mention of Highway 97 and Stickle Road.

“I thought this was a high priority,” said Coun. Brian Quiring of the intersection, which is notorious for fatalities and close-calls.

With no clear indication as to why Stickle wasn’t highlighted, Quiring came up with his own theory.

“We told them we didn’t like their solution and now it’s off the five-year plan,” he said.

Now one would hope a government agency wouldn’t pursue such an approach simply because a proposal ran into opposition, but it’s difficult to imagine why Stickle Road was left out of the plan.

After all, local officials and residents have been demanding safety upgrades at the intersection for years, particularly after a 2004 coroner’s report identified numerous hazards there.

Leading the charge has been George Zimmerman, a Stickle Road resident who collected 1,363 names on a petition in 2006 asking for improvements there.

The Regional District of North Okanagan  has fired letter after letter off to the government demanding action, including one to MLA Eric Foster in 2011.

“No action has been taken,” said director Bob Fleming in an interview four years ago.

Fleming is the first one to point out that getting ICBC accident statistics for the intersection is challenging and even if you do get them, they are generally classified and can’t be released to the public or the media.

But a 2012 newspaper article states there were about four or five fatalities beginning in 2001, and 89 crashes at the intersection since 2007. One can only imagine that the number of accidents has increased given the population growth, high rate of speed on the highway and expanded commercial activities along Swan Lake.

The ministry’s answer to Stickle Road is a right-in, right-out, meaning anyone wanting to go back into Vernon from the commercial strip will have to travel north along the highway and find a safe spot to turn around and go south, or use Pleasant Valley Road instead. For those tourists staying at the RV park on the opposite side of the highway, they would have to drive into Vernon and then back-track if  wanting to go north.

It’s not a convenient strategy and could create additional risk as motorists take chances to go in their preferred direction.

The best option, and the one the ministry is fighting the most, is a traffic light at Stickle Road.

“They’re all over Kamloops and West Kelowna. It’s how traffic is managed,” said Quiring.

Yes, a traffic light will interrupt highway traffic and that won’t be popular with some, but  a red light will hopefully bring speeds down to a more reasonable level and lead to fewer deaths and crashes. One would think this would be an option preferred by ICBC as fewer accidents is good for premiums and the corporation’s bottom line.

It will be interesting to hear from the Ministry of Transportation as to why Stickle Road isn’t in the 10-year plan.

Was it an oversight, is it not a priority anymore or are ministry staff too busy with other projects like a road through Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park?