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Transportation & Infrastructure

Policy Area 6: Transportation and Infrastructure

The North Okanagan has extensive, well-integrated transportation infrastructure which supports a wide variety of economic functions and industries. Various transportation modes move people and freight throughout the region and beyond primarily by road, rail, and aviation.
Provincial highways serving the North Okanagan are:

  • Highway 97 (Vernon to Kamloops),
  • Highway 97A (Swan Lake junction to Sicamous),
  • Highway 97B (Grindrod to Salmon Arm), and
  • Highway 6 (Vernon to Lumby, Cherryville and the Kootenays).

In addition to provincial highways, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is responsible for all public roads within the RDNO Electoral Areas, while the municipalities are responsible for roads within their jurisdictions (aside from provincial highways).

Currently, railway freight service in the North Okanagan is provided by CN Rail with railway linking Lumby, Vernon, Armstrong and extending to the northwest to Campbell Creek (east of Kamloops) where it joins the CP mainline.

Since 1946, the Vernon Regional Airport (YVK) has provided a variety of aviation services and has been a centre for airside manufacturing in the North Okanagan. Located in the Okanagan Landing area within the City of Vernon, the Vernon Regional Airport has 1,072 metres of asphalt runway and approximately 2 hectares of land which offers excellent opportunities for aerospace related manufacturing, maintenance, and technical education.

The Regional District of North Okanagan funds two transit services in the North Okanagan: the Regional Service (to/from Enderby and Lumby) and the UBCO Connector Service (to/from University of British Columbia in Kelowna).  These services are funded by the communities of the North Okanagan based primarily on ridership. Decisions about fares, routes and service levels are made by the service partners, based on information and planning provided by BC Transit.  A custom door-to-door HandyDART service is also available in Electoral Areas “B” and “C” through a grant to the City of Vernon.

How Are We Doing?

When asked to rate opportunities to safely travel to work, school or other destinations, on average, Quality of Life survey respondents rated public transit between ‘poor’ and ‘fair’ while opportunities to cycle and walk were rated slightly above ‘fair’. The community of residence of survey respondents had a significant impact on ratings of public transit, walking, and cycling opportunities. Such modes of travel were rated lower by rural residents and somewhat more positively by residents of more urban centres.

The good news is that the annual number of trips taken on the Vernon Regional Transit system increased from approximately 488,000 in 2010 to approximately 566,000 in 2015. Route #90, Vernon to the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan (UBCO) campus in Kelowna, was introduced in July 2008 and it has proven to be a vital and valued service with buses often running at full capacity. Elected officials with the Regional District of North Okanagan investigated cost-effective solutions to address the capacity issues on this popular regional service and in 2013 additional return trips were added on this route to better serve residents who choose public transit to commute to UBCO.

Active transportation is any self-propelled, human-powered mode of transportation, such as walking or bicycling. While walking and cycling may be considered by some to be unsafe due to heavy traffic and a scarcity of sidewalks and bicycle facilities, improving these elements could encourage higher rates of active transportation. The health benefits of physical activity are well recognized and North Okanagan communities are endeavoring to provide safe and convenient opportunities for active transportation. In the City of Vernon, for example, approximately 26 km of sidewalks and cycling infrastructure were added between 2001 and 2016.

The extent of rail service in the North Okanagan has declined in recent years, however this loss has opened up opportunities for other modes of transportation including the potential for a world-class recreation pathway within a decommissioned rail corridor. In 2013, Kelowna Pacific Railway went into receivership and discontinued service on the section of CN rail line extending from Kelowna to Coldstream. Almost immediately, interested citizens rallied and encouraged the province and local governments to acquire the corridor.  With financial support from the province, the local governments ultimately purchased the former CN land and in doing so they made a long-term commitment to secure the corridor as a multi-modal regional transportation route, including use of the corridor as a recreational trail. Passing through the jurisdictions of RDNO, Coldstream, Lake Country, Kelowna, and the Okanagan Indian Band, all jurisdictions are working together to design and build the trail. Community-based fundraising is underway to support construction of the trail which will be suitable for people of all ages and abilities to walk, run or cycle. The level 48.5 km route includes over 24 km adjacent to lakeshores, creeks and unique natural areas.

The Vernon Regional Airport is important to both transportation and economic development as it serves as a base for corporate, commercial, and general aviation and is home to 14 businesses that employ approximately 120 people. Cumulatively the Vernon Airport contributes 30 million dollars annually to the local economy and has become a major economic generator for the region. An Airport Master Plan was identified as one of the City of Vernon’s goals in its 2015-2018 Strategic Plan. The new Master Plan will provide clear direction on how the airport will adapt to change in the aviation industry while maintaining a high standard of service to the North Okanagan.