By Steve Hubrecht

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Ongoing sewer and water upgrades have once again diverted all traffic heading south out of (or north into) Invermere past local schools, but this fall the situation has not created the chaos it did last fall.

The District of Invermere (DOI) began doing the sewer upgrades, which are urgently needed, along 13th Avenue in summer, 2021. The work was more complicated than expected and so, spilled out of the planned summer construction window several months into the fall. 

The 2021 upgrades saw 13th Avenue, one of the district’s main thoroughfares, completely closed to vehicles in both directions, with the traffic rerouted instead along 15th Avenue. It was a negligible hassle during July and August, but once schools opened up again in September, the extra traffic and the higher-than-normal speeds it was travelling at, caused serious traffic jams and other safety concerns along 15th Avenue, particularly during school drop-off and pick-up times. Numerous residents voiced their displeasure with the bedlam to the Pioneer and to the district.

When the contract for phase two of the sewer upgrades on 13th Avenue was awarded in early 2022, district staff emphasized at the time that the contract contained stiff financial penalties for not sticking to a strict July-August timeline. They wanted avoid a repeat of the traffic issues.

But once again, the work has proven trickier than expected. Add staffing shortages and Invermere council’s decision to expand the scope of phase two to include 15th Street. Sewer upgrades are desperately needed on 15th Street too, and doing them now will save Invermere taxpayers a pile of money down the road.  As a result, work again extended well past the Labour Day long weekend deadline, deep into the fall.

In recent weeks the project got to the point at which 15th Street was completely closed to traffic, effectively sealing off all routes south out of Invermere except for 15th Avenue. This is the same bottleneck situation created by phase one last year, with all traffic heading into or out of the south end of Invermere now funnelled right past Eileen Madson Primary School (EMP), David Thompson Secondary School (DTSS), and J.A. Laird Elementary School.

The Pioneer braced for an onslaught of grumbling residents, but so far there have been none.

Invermere mayor Al Miller has had the same experience.

“This year it seems like it’s been going quite well. I have not heard the complaining and we have not had the issues we did last year,” Miller told the Pioneer. “The upgrades are what we have to do. We’re getting the job done, and it will make the situation for the residents there, much better.”

He surmised that residents might be expressing less frustration this fall simply because they may now realize the urgency of the sewer upgrades and the lack of options the district has in terms of keeping 13th Avenue open.

“I think people understand this work needs to happen,” said Miller.

Getting the paving done on the intersection of 13th Avenue and 14th Street (the major intersection in the area, right at the southeast corner of J.A. Laird) just before schools opened in early September may also have helped lessen complaints, hypothesized Miller. “It was just done in the nick of time, but it was done, so there was no interruption to the traffic flowing through at intersection during school drop-off and pick-up times. We are trying our best to make it as smooth as possible.”

The district also created a new crosswalk at the intersection of 15th Avenue and Pineridge Road to improve safety for kids walking to school (and for any other pedestrians wanting to cross the suddenly-busy 15th Avenue).

Invermere bylaw officer (and incoming Invermere councillor), Mark Topliff, spent a lot of mornings outside EMP last fall, trying to make sure passing vehicles obeyed the school zone speed limits.

“I have been there again quite a bit this fall, but it’s been a lot better than last year,” Topliff told the Pioneer. “The contractor crews have done a good job with flagging and traffic control. It’s certainly made my job as bylaw officer a lot easier.”

Miller said the last stretch of 13th Avenue will “hopefully be paved shortly” but added 15th Street will likely need to finished next spring. “We’ll have to make do with the gravel (on 15th Street) over the winter,” he said.