A small, little-known 25-hectare park could delay the much-needed replacement of the Elko Overhead Bridge because two provincial ministries didn’t compare notes, according to some local politicians.
The Elko Provincial Park will need to give up some land to allow for the widening of Hwy. 3 as part of the Elko Overhead replacement project, which will replace the crumbling bridge and widen the road to allow for a turning lane into Elko.
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) is responsible for the widening project, while the Ministry of Environment has jurisdiction over the park itself.
According to Liberal Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka, the already-approved project’s development appears to have encountered some problems with communication over the last two months as it entered into the design phase.
“(It has) been in the works for quite some time to put a turning lane and reconstruct the overpass bridge in Elko. Everything was done, funding was there, and now they’re finding out that in order to put in a turning lane, they’re going to have to appropriate some land from a class C park which hasn’t really been used for decades, and it seems like its one of those little things that stops projects like this.”
The existing bridge was constructed in 1950, and is no longer fit for purpose, causing traffic delays for travellers trying to get into Elko. An average of 6,700 vehicles cross the bridge every day.
Shypitka, who said the fix should be “simple,” became involved after local politicians asked him to write to both of the involved ministries in November to try to force the issue through by adjusting the boundaries of the park and avoiding any delays to the projected 2022 opening timeline for the project.
Unsigned park doesn’t have significant amenities, ecosystems
Mayor of Sparwood David Wilks, who is also chair of the Hwy. 3 Mayors and Chairs coalition, said that the park itself wasn’t all that much to begin with.
“It’s not even the park that will be intruded upon by the highway, it’s the bank. We’ll have to remove a few trees to be able to align the highway properly,” he said, explaining that that intrusion appeared to be what was an issue with the Ministry of Environment.
“We’re hoping that calmer heads prevail here and the two ministries understand that this is a much needed project.”
According to a BC Parks, the Elko Provincial Park was first designated in 1970. A Class C park is described as one that is close to urban areas and “not necessarily significant contributors to protecting ecosystems or species.”
The park itself is unsigned and offers minimal amenities: a boarded-up hut, two baseball diamonds and a few spots where day users have had fires.
The BC Parks document from 2003 described the Elko Provincial Park as being neglected back then, and also said it contributed minimally to overall protected areas of the region, with no special features, rare or endangered species, or research opportunities.
“Noxious weeds have all but consumed most of the native grasslands in the park and the absence of wildfire for the last 50 years has created extensive forest in-growth,” reads the document.
“Despite this loss of biodiversity, the area supports winter range for deer and elk.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the transportation ministry said that the Elko Overhead project remains a priority for them and they are working through any issues.
“There is a small, sloped portion of the park lands that is required for the project, necessitating a park boundary amendment to remove the required land from the park.”
They described the bridge as nearing the end of its service life, with a need for substantial repairs or complete replacement.
“Due to its narrow lanes and lack of shoulders, it does not meet today’s design standards. It also doesn’t meet CP’s (CP Rail) vertical clearance requirements,” they said, adding that its replacement would support commercial, industrial and tourist traffic while improving safety for all users.
Shypitka said it was imperative that the project go through without delays.
“If it gets stalled, who knows what happens with the next budget – it could fall right off the shelf, and we might not see the project come through at all.”
According to the province, the project is still in the engineering design phase, and remains on schedule to begin construction in Spring 2022, for completion in late 2022. It has a budget of $12 million.
The new bridge will be 53 metres, with wider shoulders, a barrier-protected sidewalk, a westbound turn-lane to allow safer access to Elko, a wheelchair-accessible pedestrian tunnel under Hwy. 3 on the north side of the bridge, and improved signage and lighting.
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