January 11, 2012
Construction possible cause of falling boulder
The Ministry of Transportation is investigating to determine if construction activity caused a boulder to crash through the forest and crush the front of a car on a highway in central British Columbia
"The contractor's engineers are currently at the site and they arrived last night," said Reid Drummond, the project manager for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure on the Highway 97 project between Winfield and Oyama, BC.
“The contractor is building an embankment in that area and placing material or sub-base that the highway will sit on.”
Three Kelowna residents were travelling south on Highway 97 at 11 a.m. on Jan. 6, when a 135-kg boulder landed on the hood of their white Dodge sedan.
The male driver and female rear passenger were taken to hospital with minor injuries and the passenger riding in the front passenger seat wasn’t hurt.
The incident occurred below an area where the ministry is undertaking a new highway upgrading and realignment project.
Windley Contracting of Nanaimo was awarded a $40.8 million contract, in March 2011, for the construction of the new four-lane section of highway.
The project received federal environmental approval in February 2011 and the ground breaking ceremony was held in July.
“The boulder somehow escaped the containment berm and probably went through 80-100 metres of treed landscape,” said Drummond.
“The highway is about 100 to 500 metres west of the existing highway, but this varies over the nine kilometre section.”
A new upland route is being built because the existing two-lane highway was too challenging to expand with Wood Lake on one side and rock cliffs on the other.
Blasting may have loosened the boulder, but this activity was not taking place at the time of the incident.
“Anytime we are working in this type of situation, we have containment measures such as fences and berms, that are designed to stop rocks from rolling down the hill,” Drummond said.
“To date, we have moved about 800,000 cubic metres of material and no similar incidents have occurred. They will need to review and rethink mitigations measures and come up with new options that ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Ministry of Transportation engineers have been on the site since Jan. 6 and are running a parallel investigation.
WorkSafeBC was notified and is also involved in the investigation.
Construction includes two overpasses at south and north ends to realign the road on highway 97 at Evans Road in Oyama and Oceola Road in Winfield.
Two underpasses will be constructed to accommodate wildlife, grading, drainage, paving and pedestrians.
The project also involves the removal of the existing nine-kilometre two-lane section from Westbank to Vernon, which was responsible for increasing the risk of accidents in the area.
Five people were killed in motor vehicle accidents on the existing narrow, two-lane highway between 2005 and 2008.
The project is expected to create more than 250 jobs during construction.
The new route is expected to be completed in 2013.
The $77.9 million project was announced in 2008 by the federal and provincial governments. The Federal Government announced $33.6 million funding for the project under the Building Canada Plan, while the B.C. government’s contribution is $44.3 million.
The new highway should reduce the number of accidents, as well as improve trade and tourism in the Okanagan by making it easier for goods and services to be transported.
It is estimated about 22,000 vehicles a day will use the realigned section of the highway.
During the summer, daily traffic can reach more than 26,000 vehicles. The number of vehicles passing the highway is expected to jump to 35,000 a day by 2035.
Highway 97 is the longest provincial highway in Canada, and runs from Osoyoos in the south to Yukon in the north.
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