Dangerous conditions along Highway 97, and particularly at Stickle Road, have dominated debate for years in Greater Vernon. However, it’s actually surprising to find out how long the problem has existed.
A headline in the Oct. 6, 1966 Vernon News states: Probe of accident stretch sought.
“Concerned over the number of accidents and fatalities on a six-mile highway stretch north of the city, the Vernon Chamber of Commerce Tuesday voted to press for an investigation of the route by the department of highways,” says the article.
“President W.I. Neilson said accidents are becoming frequent occurrences on the stretch. RCMP say the stretch between the city limits and Swan Lake junction is the heaviest travelled route in the Vernon detachment area. Average daily flow is 6,060 motor vehicles.”
Up until Oct. 5, 1966, there had been one fatality that year, and 17 other accidents, seven of them resulting in injuries.
“Mr. Neilson mentioned one spot in which a dip in the road hides oncoming traffic and poses a hazard to cars pulling out to pass at that point,” says the article.
“He said it was strange that the stretch, which is comparatively straight, should have a higher accident toll than that south of the city which is winding and has several bends.”
Now it’s not known how vigorously the chamber pursued the request almost 50 years ago or if the then Department of Highways ever initiated a review and took action to improve safety.
But there’s definitely truth to the old saying: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
First off, traffic has continued to grow along the Swan Lake corridor.
Between 2003 and 2012, there were 50 collisions at the intersection of Highway 97 and Stickle Road (which I am not sure existed in 1966).
According to the Ministry of Transportation, about 27,000 vehicles now use Highway 97 daily, with that going up to 31,000 in the summer. By 2039, it’s anticipated this will climb to 36,500 vehicles per day and 42,000 during the summer.
But perhaps more importantly, it’s just as difficult to budge bureaucracy now as it was decades ago.
And a good example of that is the recent decision by the Swan Lake Business Corridor Association to withdraw demands for a traffic signal at Stickle Road and Highway 97.
There was growing concern that if the businesses didn’t accept the ministry’s plans to ban left-turns on to the highway and extend 20th Street into Vernon, the ministry would just walk away with its funding and leave the dangerous intersection as is.
Essentially, the ministry bullied the businesses into submission and that is an unacceptable way for government to operate. There was also strong support among residents for a traffic signal during three open houses, so the relevance of soliciting public input has been undermined.
At the end of the day, the ministry’s proposal is driving ahead and hopefully it works as promised.
But even if it does succeed, you can guarantee the process won’t sit well with many residents leading into next year’s provincial election.