The future of a portion of the Trans-Canada Highway through Salmon Arm came down to a 4-3 vote.
It was a lengthy but respectful discussion, where varying impassioned views were aired and, in the end, the majority of city council voted to approve recommendations in the 2013 TCH Corridor Safety Study prepared for the City of Salmon Arm, ICBC and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI). They also approved Phase 1 improvements outlined in a July 26 city staff report.
The biggest change in those recommendations from ISL Engineering is moving the traffic light at Ross Street to Fourth Street. The Fourth Street signal would have an advanced left-turn for all directions.
Phase 1 deals only with the Sixth through Alexander Street intersections.
Voting for the recommendations on Oct. 10 were Couns. Tim Lavery, Kevin Flynn and Louise Wallace Richmond, as well as Mayor Nancy Cooper, while Couns. Chad Eliason, Alan Harrison and Ken Jamieson voted against.
“Moving the light was a very big deal,” said Cooper following the meeting. “Council found that one very, very difficult.”
The decision was particularly difficult because the business community was generally opposed to it, Cooper said, referring to feedback from Downtown Salmon Arm, Salmon Arm Economic Development Society and the Salmon Arm Chamber of Commerce.
She said she was focused mainly on safety.
“These are safety improvements and we’re looking at safety on the highway.”
And she pointed out that the BC Trucking Association was in favour of the safety improvements.
Coun. Kevin Flynn also favoured the changes.
He said professional engineers have evaluated the TCH corridor for safety, not for getting drivers through quickly, and have come up with recommendations.
“In my opinion, we can’t afford not to move towards what professional engineers say is safer. I think we’ve waited too long.”
He says common sense dictates there should be a traffic light at the Tim Hortons and 7-Eleven intersection at Fourth Street.
“I pass that corner about eight times a day – that corner is horrendous.”
Coun. Alan Harrison said after the meeting that he thinks the city needs to take a broader view of traffic, especially along the highway.
“By broader I think we seriously need to look at bypass options,” he said, referring to the need for plans to get trucks around Salmon Arm rather than through.
He said he agrees with a lot of the traffic calming measures in the 2013 study, such as overhead signs and signs showing how fast drivers are going, but not the traffic light change. He pointed to feedback from the business community, in particular.
“The one thing that almost everybody said was, don’t move the light from Ross to Fourth because we don’t think it’s going to slow traffic down. I’m not sure it’s going to slow traffic down either.”
He said he’s been on the highway committee from the start, sitting down with the MOTI and ICBC people, and their clear mandate “is to move the traffic as safely and quickly through town as possible.”
He said he’s not sure that works out for local interests such as safe pedestrian crossings and safe turnings downtown.
“That’s the main reason I didn’t support it.”
Rob Niewenhuizen, the city’s director of engineering and public works, said the next step will be to set up a meeting with MOTI. Although unconfirmed, he thinks the city’s share will be between $75,000 and $90,000, a figure which would be added to the 2018 budget.
He thinks the work could potentially begin in March.