In order to improve safety on the Trans-Canada Highway, Salmon Arm city council is proposing several major changes to traffic lights and access through downtown.
Rob Niewenhuizen, the city’s directotor of engineering and public works, met recently with representatives of Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) and ICBC to discuss the insurance corporation’s 2013 TCH Corridor Safety Study.
At the Feb. 28 council meeting, Niewenhuizen advised that representatives from both organizations assured there is money available to make some changes.
“We looked at what are the options for moving forward,” said Niewenhuizen, noting that because of the number of incidents, transportation officials suggested it might be better to focus on the easterly half (of the downtown corridor), concentrating on Ross Street to Sixth Avenue. “MOTI indicated they were in budget phase and told us to let them know if we’re in and ICBC said they would extend their funding commitment.”
Improvements would include relocation of the traffic lights from Ross Street to Fourth Street (Tim Horton’s corner) to allow full traffic movement on Fourth, including advanced left-turn traffic lights.
On Sixth Street, changes would limit access McGuire Lake Park. Drivers would no longer be able to turn left (east) onto the TCH to go up Tank Hill, but would be able to turn left onto Sixth from the highway.
Also recommended is the reduction of access at Ross Street and the Trans-Canada by the installation of a concrete median to restrict flow across the highway.
Westbound drivers would be able to turn right off the highway onto Ross Street and right from Ross onto the highway, but would not be able to cross the highway, turn left onto the highway or access Ross Street from the eastbound lane of the TCH.
A built-in ramp would allow fire trucks from Hall #1 to cross the highway and a large red light would illuminate to advise drivers of an emergency, similar to a setup on Highway 97A through Vernon.
As well, MOTI officials have agreed to allow gateway signage and speed-reader boards at the entrance to the downtown area.
“The ministry has a new protocol and would allow an entrance sign; no archway, but maybe an L-shaped arm saying ‘now entering downtown Salmon Arm’ and it could be somewhere around McGuire Lake Park,” said Niewenhuizen of alerting westbound traffic.
Like the Shuswap Avenue intersection, all downtown traffic lights would have advanced, green-arrow lights to make left-hand turns safer.
Coun. Kevin Flynn was onboard with the proposed changes, particularly with the flashing reader boards. He wants to give residents the chance to have their say.
“I think with what’s going on in the community, we owe it to the community to revisit this in some public forum to inform people about this,” he said, referring to recent protests on the highway. “People need to understand the changes and implications and budget for this, and now is the time to focus on what can be done. It’s top of mind for the community and top of mind for us.”
Coun. Alan Harrison approved of focusing on the east end of the downtown section of highway and recommended the Chamber of Commerce and Salmon Arm Downtown be made aware of proposed changes.
“The absolute key to safety is the short stopping distance between Alexander and Ross; that light is a key and moving that light and stopping crossing at Ross Street is important too,” Harrison said, adding his support for an open house. “We’ll want input from the chamber and DIA; things are getting busier, the time is now.”
Tim Lavery agreed it’s important that council is seen as providing leadership but put the onus on members of the public to give their opinions.
“There needs to be clarity from key stakeholders as to what they want or don’t want and there is also a responsibility for the public to get up to snuff by reading the (2013 Traffic Safety) report,” he said, issuing a general invitation. “Come on down and listen to some the key suggestions and how they fit now and in the bigger plan – it’s more than just criticism. Listen to some of the suggestions on the table and give your own input.”
In terms of funding the proposed highway changes, Niewenhuizen told council that MOTI advised the ministry is now in budget talks and if the city shows a willingness to proceed with a tri-partite funding agreement, money will be put aside in their budget.
“This was the first meeting to inform council there is an opportunity. We don’t know how much is still on the table, but if we want to go ahead, we need to get in touch quickly,” he said, assuring council that staff could organize an open house but that timing would depend on the availability of MOTI representatives. “We need assurance from council to move forward and instead of this year’s budget, we could do a letter of understanding and put it in next year’s budget.”
Councillors agreed unanimously to forward the 2013 ICBC Corridor Safety Report, including recent MOTI policy changes, to the Chamber of Commerce, Salmon Arm Downtown, Economic Development Society, Canadian Trucking Alliance and British Columbia Trucking Association, and request a response within 45 days. Council also approved a second motion to revisit and review the 2013 Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and ICBC Traffic and Safety study first phase of improvements with costs to be considered.
Meanwhile, in response to the number of accidents and near misses, the local RCMP detachment partnered with the East Trans-Canada Highway Patrol Unit to focus on the downtown portion of the highway.
On Monday Feb. 27, Salmon Arm RCMP officers and the East Trans-Canada Highway Patrol Unit handed out 39 tickets and warnings under the provincial Motor Vehicle Act. Offences included “unsafe speed, use of electronic devices, intersection offences as well as failing to wear seatbelts”
“One driver was found to be prohibited from driving and the appropriate action was taken under the provincial legislation,” wrote Salmon Arm RCMP Staff Sgt. Scott West in a news release. “Another driver had a vehicle that was removed from the road due to unsafe equipment.”
West says local RCMP officers and members of the highway patrol unit will continue to work together in an effort to make the highway safer.