Aroundabout $2,000,000

Aroundabout $2,000,000 (pun intended), that’s a rough estimate of what remains to be spent on the controversial proposed traffic circle at Hwy 19A and Memorial Avenue. Preliminary monies have already been spent to generate engineering specifications, but no shovels in the ground yet.

Council has promised to re-assess its capital spending plans and priorities in the context of changing financial conditions due to COVID-19.

Proposed QB Waterfront roundabout at Hwy 19A and Memorial Avenue.

According to an August 16, 2017 presentation by Town staff, the origins of a total of $10 million of Memorial Avenue Upgrade projects can be traced back to Council meetings in 2011. By August 2017, the following Phase 1 and Phase 2 work had been completed at a cost of $3.2 million:

  • Storm sewer upgrades from Second Avenue to Elizabeth;
  • Watermain upgrades on Memorial from Village Way to Hoylake;
  • Watermain upgrades across Memorial at First Avenue & Crescent Road;
  • Intersection re-alignments at Village Way and Crescent Road;
  • Separated pathway Crescent Road to Elizabeth; and,
  • Rain Garden construction at Crescent Road to take “first flush” runoff from the commercial core.

Apart from the occasional grumbles about traffic disruptions that are a necessary evil for these kinds of projects, the taxpayers of QB seemed AOK with these Phase 1 / 2 enhancements to Town infrastructure.

Phase 3, with its $6.8 million estimate, has not enjoyed the same level of support. Part of the reason is the bundling of 4 separate projects, with minimal co-dependencies, into a single Phase 3 all-or-nothing project, including:

  • Separated pathway Village Way to Crescent Road;
  • Foreshore modification including Beach Creek enhancement & estuary re-establishment;
  • Replacement of the failing sanitary trunk sewer under Hwy 19A, including addition of ability to recover thermal energy from the sanitary sewer system; and,
  • Converting the T-intersection at Memorial Avenue and Hwy 19A to a roundabout.

What will the individual pieces of Phase 3 cost? Hard to tell. The Town’s regular financial reports do not provide a transparent picture of project-specific expenditure accounting.

Apparently $2.1 million of project-specific grants (21% of the estimated total of all 3 phases) have been promised, but it is not entirely clear how much grant money is tied to which component of the overall project.

The Media Release from the Town dated March 30, 2017 doesn’t provide clarity. It states that our provincial MLA “confirmed that the Town will receive $1.4 million to complete [Phase 3 of] the Memorial Avenue upgrade project.” (20% of the estimated $6.8 million Phase 3 price tag) What the Town’s press release doesn’t state is the actual source of the infrastructure funds – provincial government? federal government? both? which funding program?, and most importantly, tied to which specific components of the project?

According to PQB News, MLA Stilwell announced in a press release less than a week later that “the federal and provincial governments are investing about $1.4 million toward Phase 3 of the Memorial Avenue upgrades through the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund.”

However, this Fund is an Infrastructure Canada program, and is most definitely not to be used for the funding of roundabout construction.

Many residents and taxpayers continue to question the necessity and urgency of the proposed traffic circle at Memorial and Hwy 19A, as well as its relative bang-for-the-buck compared to spending the same amount of money on other priorities.

Statements from Town management and Council circa 2017 expressed a need to “Realign and improve substandard intersections that show high crash rates .. from a poor intersection design”. Planning manager Luke Sales was quoted as saying that “the roundabout is expected to help reduce the number of traffic accidents at the intersection, slow driving speeds and therefore reduce the severity of whatever accidents do still occur.”

If the community at large considered the current T-intersection to be an unacceptable public safety hazard, one would expect to see it prominently featured in the Town’s Official Community Plan updated in 2018. But the only mentions are “it is anticipated that the need for traffic control of the intersection will require careful management of both vehicular and pedestrian traffic” and, one of the objectives for the waterfront is to “reduce traffic volume and speed along the waterfront.”

Even if the roundabout was just an infatuation of the current Council and senior management, it would then warrant high priority in their current Strategic Plan 2019 – 2022. In that document, the proposed traffic circle does get mentioned – but only as one on a list of ten “community amenities and infrastructure upgrades that should be explored as resources permit.” Not exactly a resounding urgency in that Plan either.

In 2017/18 citizen opposition to the roundabout was firm and frequent, judging by letters to the local paper at the time, perhaps reflecting a mistrust of, or a downright lack of, reliable evidence provided by Town management related to the level of injuries, deaths, and property damage, by individual cause, at the existing T-intersection.  Residents were also frustrated at the apparent lack of interest in more cost-effective solutions to the traffic carnage, if indeed it was a serious issue. A couple of examples follow.

Wendy Maurer: “I seriously question the need for a roundabout at the bottom of Memorial Avenue at Highway 19A. I am the closest resident to that intersection and am well aware of the pedestrian and vehicle traffic at that corner… I still don’t know what problems the Town is trying to fix with this solution. .. The Town should clearly explain the rationale for this and share the base data, guarantee in writing that pedestrian safety will not be [adversely] affected by this design.”

John Wood: “I agree with Wendy Maurer. I, too, seriously question the need for a highway roundabout at the bottom of Memorial Avenue at Highway 19A. It is a simple T-intersection where a set of traffic lights would work very well, and would integrate with the existing pedestrian crosswalk” – just as the traffic lights do at the T-intersection of Bennett Road and Hwy 19A, where pedestrian safety is paramount given the proximity of the elementary school.

Many options. 3-way stop signs. Traffic lights, with or without cameras to detect non-compliance. Enforced speed limits, using photo radar if our police can’t otherwise do the job. Or leave the T-intersection as is and focus on higher priorities.

It might be time to think outside the box and save ourselves at least a million bucks or two. Which reminds me of a wise statement I recently encountered: To think outside the box, you first have to recognize that you are in a box.