By Stew Slater, Staff reporter
Motorists in St. Marys will — in one case in the near future; in the other case within a few years — almost certainly have to deal with two new traffic control measures on town streets.
One is an enforced single lane through the Grand Trunk Walkway underpass on Emily Street. The other is a tri-colour stoplight for Queen Street passage at the St. John Street (Hearn’s Dairy) intersection.
At its regular meeting Tuesday, July 24, Town Council approved motions which effectively set in motion the wheels which would lead to both installations.
At St. John Street, a so-called “pedestrian cross-over” is already in place — since being installed earlier this year to replace a school crossing guard. But Council learned a few months ago that the OPP believes charges laid against motorists for disobeying the cross-over — which features lighted signs on either side of Queen Street, but nothing overhead — will not stand up in court.
So, at last week’s meeting, Council voted 5-1 in favour of spending approximately $10,000 on a traditional stoplight for the intersection, along with a set of “Walk” and “Don’t Walk” signals for pedestrians. The tri-colour stoplights would only control vehicle traffic on Queen Street, and would be activated by a pedestrian pushing a button. St. John Street would still be controlled by Stop signs.
Only Councillor Stephen McCotter objected. Citing observations made by Town employees in June revealing only three elementary-aged students used the cross-over during the school day, he believes no control measure is necessary at the intersection. And, contrary to the motion supported by the rest of Council — which calls for the cross-over system to be sold at auction — he believes the existing equipment should be re-installed at the intersection of Huron and Maxwell Streets, as an additional reminder to motorists to stop at the Stop sign.
But Councillor Bill Osborne noted requests were first received several years ago for better control at the Queen/St. John intersection. And those requests came on behalf of the numerous elderly people who live in the area — both in the Kingsway/Fairhill Residence retirement complex, and the Rotary Apartments on St. Andrew Street.
Payroll administrator Dorrie Brenneman, who has been leading the project on behalf of Town administration, noted that Council had the option of two courses of action: removing all controls if they’re concerned only with the safety of school-aged pedestrians; or enhancing the system if they’re concerned with the safety of all residents.
The tri-colour stoplight “is a superior system over and above what we already have, just because it’s enforceable under the Highway and Traffic Act,” said Brenneman. She defended the initial decision regarding the cross-over, however, noting that the OPP had been consulted prior to its installation.
On Emily Street, meanwhile, the decision to officially limit traffic through the Grand Trunk underpass came in the form of the approval of a Memorandum of Understanding with the owners of Thames Crest Farms. The Town and the developer have been working through the red tape en route towards the first stage of residential subdivision, and the July 24 meeting included an agreement to share costs on the provision of safe pedestrian passage through the underpass.
Town CAO Kevin McLlwain explained three options were explored: removing the former railway embankment altogether; widening the opening and reconstructing the underpass; or installing a sidewalk and railing on the west side of the existing underpass. Given, in part, to the fact Environmental Assessments would be required for both other options, the use of the existing underpass proved to be the least expensive by far.
“However, this does narrow the road so it will have to be clearly defined that only one vehicle goes through at a time,” McLlwain said. He added the change would require “at least a Yield sign but possibly a Stop sign to address the right-of-way” through the underpass.
No precise timeline on the Emily Street underpass was given, although cost-shared work with the developer has been tentatively set for 2013. But the final development agreement has not yet been settled by both the Town and Thames Crest Farms’ owners.
During the Question Period portion of last week’s meeting, Council also heard a suggestion from Emily Street resident Dave Baxter, who believes a logical extension from the underpass pedestrian upgrade would be to construct a pedestrian walkway from the underpass to Lions Park — a route which currently is home to a temporary roadway as part of a construction detour.