EDITORIAL: Highway upgrades must be a priority

Ministry of Transportation needs to take immediate action to improve safety on Highway 97

The cause of Wednesday’s tragic motor vehicle accident at Highway 97 and Birnie Road is not known.

But what can’t be disputed is the need for the Ministry of Transportation to take immediate action to improve safety on an increasingly busy and dangerous stretch of highway.

Beyond the fatality Wednesday, how many near-misses have there been, particularly as vehicles try to enter back on to the highway from Birnie Road after leaving the Greater Vernon landfill.

First off, the ministry needs to look at installing concrete barriers along the entire stretch of highway between Coldstream and Lake Country. In those places where the barriers already exist, northbound and southbound vehicles are separated and the possibility of a motorist veering into the oncoming lane is prevented.

Yes, there may be a cost involved to installing all of those dividers, but what is the price of a human life?

On top of this, the provincial government needs to get serious about the hazard at the Birnie Road intersection when local residents are trying to get back home after being at the landfill.

Last year, the Regional District of North Okanagan, which operates the landfill, suggested constructing a one-way bridge from Birnie Road northbound to Highway 97 crossing the highway. It would then allow vehicles to yield on to the highway safely.

And the best part is RDNO calls for part of the cost of constructing the bridge to come from landfill tipping fees, meaning the provincial government wouldn’t be on the complete hook.

More residents are increasingly travelling to Kelowna for work or university, or heading to the airport for a trip. Tourists make their way to the North Okanagan on the route along Kalamalka Lake.

Highway 97 is a critical link economically and socially and motorists need some assurances that their safety is paramount.

It’s time for the  ministry to get off the fence.