The Ministry of Transportation has no problem installing an underpass as part of their South Slocan highway improvement project, they just don’t know how to pay for it.
“The ministry has always supported the idea of the underpass. We’ve been working with stakeholders to figure out a cost-sharing situation,” project manager Robbie Kalabis told the Star this week. “Everyone’s got to work together to make this thing happen.”
And it seems like plenty of people are willing to do the work. Besides a well-attended open house this month, the ministry has been communicating with stakeholders such as the Slocan Valley Heritage Rail Trail Society (which has over 250 members) and has heard concerns from a number of South Slocan residents.
They hope to apply for grants and funding from various levels of government to incorporate the tunnel into the design, addressing concerns that residents would have to cross the highway to reach the Kootenay River and Slocan Pool.
At issue: access under the highway, which could have been lost as part of plans to replace the existing highway bridge near the Dam Inn with rock fill. The society hopes to eventually expand and connect to the Trans-Canada Trail.
“I think we can all feel fairly positive a tunnel is going to happen,” trail society director Craig Lawrence said. “We have a comfortable, long-standing relationship with the Ministry of Transportation and this isn’t a real conflict, it’s just a part of a larger conversation.”
That’s a conversation they formerly felt left out of.
“As every day goes by and we make more connections and have more conversations, the tunnel is becoming more a part of the plan,” Lawrence said. “Six months ago it wasn’t even being talked about.”
Now it’s “not quite a foregone conclusion, but it’s part of the conversation.”
The tunnel has a price tag of approximately $400,000 and would have to incorporate lighting and enough room for cyclists to pass each other in opposite directions.
“The big response at the open house was people were supportive of the project,” said Kalabis. “They like the idea of upgrading that part of the highway, and it will increase safety a bunch with wider paved shoulders for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as incorporate a more formal left turn for South Slocan Village Rd.
“They’re all keen to have connectivity with the rail trail, and the ministry supports that.”
But that’s only part of the issue.
“This is a key element to a much larger goal, which is to include the whole corridor from Crescent Valley to South Slocan and upgrade to a paved connector,” said Lawrence.
He believes the community’s vocal opposition to filling in the underpass was effective.
“That sent a strong message to the ministry that a group of people will let their displeasure be known if this doesn’t happen.”
But he doesn’t think they have to worry: “I think the chance it won’t happen is quickly diminishing.”
Kalabis is hoping to finish design work in late spring or early summer, and will tender the project in early 2017. During construction a detour will be put in that will bypass the area where they’re working.
“It’s going to be exciting to see how this project plays out,” said Kalabis.