Bill Grainger

The Ross Street underpass: Arguments for a ‘no’ vote

Both viewpoints are being provided leading up to the referendum question on Oct. 20

In addition to electing their municipal representatives, school trustees and regional district representatives, citizens of Salmon Arm will be voting on a referendum in the civic election set for Saturday, Oct. 20 across B.C.

They will be asked to vote yes or no on the following question: “Are you in favour of council for the City of Salmon Arm adopting Loan Authorization Bylaw No. 4500, which would authorize the City of Salmon Arm to borrow $5,300,000 for the purpose of constructing the Ross Street Underpass and related works.”

In order to publicize the arguments pro and con the underpass bylaw, the Observer is running two columns, this one containing arguments opposed to borrowing for the underpass, the other in favour of the borrowing plan.

Both were given the same word limit.

The link to the ‘vote yes to underpass’ column is: here.

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By Bill Grainger, Salmon Arm resident

Why are we considering spending $12 million – $7 million of your tax dollars – to replace the Marine Park Drive/CPR train track level crossing with an underpass a block away on Ross Street? I think it’s largely because of the annoying wait time when there is a train in the crossing.

But how long is that wait? When you calculate the total time a train is in the crossing every day, it turns out that for 90 per cent of the time there is no train and no wait time. So for every 10 times you cross the tracks to the foreshore there is one wait, of a maximum five minutes, but usually less, and nine times with no wait. So the average wait time for all crossings is about half a minute – 30 seconds – per crossing. Spending $12 million to eliminate a 30-second average wait time works out to $400,000 per second.

Wait times have been greatly reduced since CPR extended their double track east of Marine Drive a few years ago. Nonetheless, some still think the inconvenience of waiting for a train affects development and property values north of the tracks. So our ever developer-friendly city council and staff are promoting the $12 million underpass to eliminate an average 30-second wait. One foreshore landowner has stated that with an underpass they expect the value of their property to be double what they paid for it. For those of us who use that crossing often, our average wait time is a minor annoyance. For most Salmon Arm taxpayers, who don’t own land on the foreshore and rarely use that crossing, spending over $7 million of your tax dollars won’t increase your property values or noticeably affect your travel times around town. Is this really a problem needing a $12 million solution?

Related: Askew’s owner objects to underpass

But what about safety concerns?

Yes, with an underpass there will be a lower risk of a vehicle/train collision. But how great is that risk? We know of no vehicle/train accident or even close calls at the existing level crossing. But there have been accidents and fatalities where city streets cross the Trans Canada Highway, and safety risks there are much higher than at the CPR crossing. Why isn’t the city working with the Ministry of Transport on TCH safety through town?

Our fire department reports no problems accessing the foreshore since trains no longer stop in the crossing, and a city study suggests the longest wait could be five minutes. However, a city map also shows that densely populated residential areas in Canoe and along Foothills Road always have more than a 10-minute response time from the nearest fire station – which is much greater than the response time to the foreshore, even when there is a train in the crossing.

Related: Ross Street underpass cost estimate at $10.5 million

Some at city hall are making a connection between a fatality on the CPR tracks a few years ago and the Marine Park Drive level crossing. This person was a friend, and their passing was in no way related to the level crossing or the lack of an underpass. However, we know there have been 40 or more deaths on the CPR tracks between Salmon Arm and First Nations lands to the west of town.

If city council and staff were really concerned about safety, and less about development and property values on the foreshore, they’d be funding improvements along the TCH through town, better emergency response services to outlying dense residential areas, and providing a safe pedestrian path connecting the city to First Nations’ communities to the west. Instead they are asking us to approve spending over $7 million local tax dollars on a $12 million underpass to eliminate a 30-second average wait. When you vote on underpass funding this Oct 20, please consider what could be done to reduce other proven safety risks in town, if even some of that money was available.

Submitted by Bill Grainger, Salmon Arm resident


@SalmonArm
newsroom@saobserver.net

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The proposed site of the Ross Street underpass. (File photo)

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