It's one of the most complex infrastructure projects the City of Kamloops has undertaken in recent times, and it starts in less than three weeks.
The Victoria Street West Improvement Project has a rather boring and neutral name, but its impact over the coming summer and fall will be felt by pretty much everyone in Kamloops at some point. The four-phase project is shutting down portions of Victoria Street West and Lansdowne Street, while affecting traffic on Overlanders Bridge and Seymour Street.
Over the four phases, the corridor will see multiple traffic flow changes. Perhaps the most notable is during phase one, when the most western part of Seymour will become a two-way street. One lane of road between First Avenue and where Seymour Street splits off from Victoria Street West will become westbound, to allow traffic coming from the city's downtown onto Overlanders Bridge.
That's to compensate for the end of Lansdowne Street being shut down (though the city will still allow transit, emergency vehicles and local business traffic down a narrow lane).
Also of note are some changes around how traffic gets to Overlanders Bridge when the later stages are underway. The right-hand lane coming from downtown on Victoria Street West will merge with the left-hand lane before it gets to the intersection with traffic coming down the Summit connector. This will mean traffic from Sahali will have a constant flow onto the bridge.
At other points, traffic will be shifted to two lanes on the northern side or to two lanes on the southern side of Victoria Street West, depending on what's being worked on.
"I think this is one of the most challenging projects we've ever taken on in the city, or at least in my career," says capital projects manager Darren Crundwell. "Not in terms of a dollar figure but in terms of coordination alone. Not only are all of our utilities impacted, and those impacts to the business, but we're also undergrounding all the power with B.C. Hydro, all the communications...and Fortis."
Stage one will be from April 15 to mid-July, stage two will start in July and run to September, and stage three and four will start at the end of summer or early fall and overlap.
The project, which will help upgrade infrastructure over a century old, faces some unknowns.
"Are we expecting to find a whole bunch of stuff here? We don't know, you never know," Crundwell says. "That's the challenge with a project like this. It's all developed, you can't go in there and do a bunch of testing."
"A lot of that information was lost in the early colonial times," says Ryan Dickie, an archaeologist with Tk'emlups te Secwepemc. "What I can say is the Tk'emlups people have been here for 10,000 years, there's not likely a square inch of this area that hasn't seen a footprint."
That means once the project is underway there could be finds which cause delays. However, Crundwell says the city is prepared for that and says any delays will likely be minor. He's more concerned about the work the city has to do with companies.
"There's a lot of external third-party utilities that are out of our control — that's our biggest fear, is managing that," he says.
The good news is that the project is already ahead of schedule. Fall 2020 was the original completion date, but Crundwell thinks things will be wrapped up in summer 2020.
What's even better news is that the city expects traffic flow to return to normal by the end of October 2019.
"Instead of a full two-year project we will have — there are two lifts of asphalt on this project — so by the end of this year, we're hoping to have the bottom lift in place," Crundwell says. "That would mean it's traffic as usual, all four lanes are open, everything is back to normal."
To keep track of the project the city will be setting up two webcams for the public, to watch the project's progress and to keep track of delays.
"You'll be able to see the whole construction," Crundwell says. "We'll be streaming it the same (as with the Overlanders Bridge)."
"And we'll be able to tell wait times because of these cameras; we've got a program built in there."
While Victoria Street West is being torn up, it doesn't mean the businesses along the road are closed. Crundwell says the city will make every effort to make sure customers still have access.
"We recognize the impact this could have financially on them," he says. "We're going to pay special attention to the businesses."
Some people are likely to rejig their commutes as well, but that'll also be an unknown — at least for the first little while. That's something the city learned during the Overlanders Bridge rehab project.
"I think once people started adjusting, it wasn't as bad as they thought," he says. "We didn't see as much traffic shift...that we were anticipating."
"For the most part, people were able to travel as they normally did."
There may be some parts of the city's infrastructure that sees more use, but overuse isn't a concern.
"If a piece of infrastructure can't handle a change of this magnitude, then I would say, as an engineer, it's close enough to the end of its life that whoever owns that better be looking at it," Crundwell says.
While the essential infrastructure and road construction is hopefully finished by October 2019, 2020 will see things ramp up again in the spring.
"We are taking the opportunity to improve the corridor: safety improvements, pedestrian improvements, landscaping improvements, lighting improvements," Crundwell says. "So there is a beautification component."
A video has been produced with a CGI version of the corridor once it's done.