A split council approved moving forward on a design for the Trans-Canada Highway intersection at a special meeting on Wednesday.
Councillors Linda Nixon, Scott Duke, Aaron Orlando and Trevor English voted in favour of a design that would include a roundabout at Victoria and Wright, block left turns into the Tim Hortons/Shell and out of the Woodenhead Loop; and keep the Bend/Frontage Road loop.
Mayor Mark McKee and coun. Gary Sulz voted against the plan. McKee wanted to explore the possibility of putting a traffic light at the railway bridge over Victoria Road to see if holding up highway-bound traffic there would alleviate the problem.
“I don’t like the idea of us throwing out a $300,000 option and going right to $2 million without having all the information,” said McKee.
Council spent about two hours hearing about and discussing options for the intersection. Elisa Becker and David Kneeshaw, engineers from McElhanney Consulting, the firm hired to design and oversee construction for the intersection, were on hand to speak to council about their proposal.
The meeting was scheduled after council balked at moving forward last week and instead opted to hold the special meeting on the intersection. They were scared off by revised estimates that pegged the cost of the work at more than $2.1 million, and fears the design wouldn’t work.
Kneeshaw and Becker said their design was created based on earlier work, and was based on the assumption that it would need to eliminate the problematic left turns at Victoria and Mutas, and add the roundabout to compensate.
“Those two things are key to everything we’ve done so far,” said Kneeshaw.
“The crux of the whole design is when you restrict the left into this area and make it a right in, the traffic is free flowing,” added Becker.
They said the model showed a 100 per cent improvement to peak traffic flows. It would reduce delays to less than 30 seconds from over five minutes for some traffic movements.
They presented several alternative plans. One would have kept the left hand turn into Tim Hortons, however they did not recommend it, saying it would only improve traffic flows by 30 per cent for the same cost of the other designs.
“I see us paying for flaggers again and the community have a good laugh for doing all that,” said Nixon.
A second maintained the Frontage/Bend Road loop that was eliminated in previous designs. It was based on feedback received at a March open house, though Becker said it made for an “awkward design.”
Photo: The design opted for by council. It keeps the Bend/Frontage Road loop intact, adds a roundabout at Victoria and Wright, and blocks left turns into the Tim Hortons, and out of the Woodenhead Loop. ~ Image by McElhanney Consulting
Mayor McKee threw a wrinkle into the debate when he brought up the idea of a traffic light at the railway overpass. He said it would only stop traffic going out to the highway in order make room at the Mutas Road intersection.
“I still like the idea of a traffic light on the CP bridge and stopping traffic from going into that intersection unless the highway light is green,” he said. “I’d like someone to say you spend $2 million, it’s going to be 100 per cent fixed. I don’t have that level of comfort. I like that idea of a light and leave everything else as it is.”
His proposal got a modicum of support. Linda Nixon added a rider to her motion to have the consultants see if the Ministry of Transportation would even consider the mayor’s proposal.
She also proposed the initial motion to move forward on the roundabout.
“I think if we stop and go back and start again, we’re going to lose a year,” she said. “I think it’s unfair to the people in (Columbia Park) to stop and start again.”
Council was under pressure to make a decision in order to get construction finished before the summer of 2017. The current construction timeline calls for the roundabout to be built this fall and the rest of the work to be done next spring. The city has budgeted $1.2 million for the project and there is no word yet on how any extra costs would be paid for.
Council’s vote means that McElhanney will now go and produce detailed designs that will refine the costs of the project before it goes out to tender.
“A cost estimate would come back to council before we proceed with a tender,” said Mike Thomas, the city’s director of engineering. “At that point council would decide to proceed.”
Thomas added that if the Ministry of Transportation said the mayor’s traffic light proposal was acceptable, they could have the consultants run a model on the proposal and bring it back to council.