City council has put the brakes on $250,000 worth of safety improvements proposed for the downtown highway corridor.
At their regular meeting Monday, July 9 Salmon Arm’s mayor and council received a report from engineering and public works director Rob Niewenhuizen, explaining that funding had been approved for the phase 1 improvements as recommended in the city’s 2013 Trans-Canada Highway Corridor Safety Study. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) agreed to contribute $87,000 and ICBC $75,000, with the remaining $88,000 coming from the city.
Last October, council approved the improvements, which include relocating the traffic lights from Ross Street to 4th Street and placing a raised meridian on the centre of the highway between Alexander Street and Fourth. But minds have changed since then.
Responding to Niewenhuizen’s report, Coun. Tim Lavery explained how what was a difficult decision for him in 2017 hasn’t become any less so over time.
“It’s important to recognize that some decisions require further review and… for the last number of months I have been struggling with this,” said Lavery, who suggested council reconsider the 2017 decision. His reasons for postponing the work include the upcoming referendum on the Ross Street underpass and a new provincial government that may be more amenable to red light traffic cameras.
“I get that has implications; I don’t believe that it will have significant financial implications, but it is time to give this a fresh look,” said Lavery.
Coun. Kevin Flynn supported Lavery’s motion, explaining how after careful reflection and after attending many meetings of the Downtown Salmon Arm board and hearing from businesses in the community, the timing is ideal to take a step back.
“I am concerned that if we do something permanent here, it could have an impact on future traffic flow when the referendum gets passed for the underpass,” said Flynn. “So, in light of the upcoming referendum and in light of the provincial government’s change to their view on red light cameras… I will support bringing this back and having a discussion around what to do from there.”
Coun. Alan Harrison noted how it’s ICBC and MOTI’s mandate to move traffic safely through town.
“That is their mandate, and our mandate isn’t necessarily that; it can be safe, but we also want people to access our town,” said Harrison. “And so the intersection at Ross Street, I think it is key to wait until after the referendum on the underpass. I still may not support moving the light if the referendum doesn’t pass because I think there’s a lot of good reasons to keep that light there. Like Fletcher Park and pedestrian traffic.”
Council voted to rescind the 2017 decision and bring it back to the first meeting of the newly elected council.
Responding to the risk of losing the funding from the province and ICBC, Harrison said that should the city decide to proceed with the proposed improvements, the funding will likely be there, “because the Ministry of Highways and ICBC want this done.”
Mayor Nancy Cooper said she was surprised by council’s decision, but that she respected council and agreed to support it.