The province wants to move ahead this year with safety improvements on Highway 1 through downtown Salmon Arm – minus a red light camera.
Either in the spring or fall, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI), in partnership with the City of Salmon Arm and ICBC, will be initiating several changes to the highway corridor intended to improve vehicle and pedestrian safety.
Identified in a 2013 Trans-Canada Highway Corridor Safety Study completed by the city and ICBC, the improvements include the relocation of the traffic lights from Ross Street to Fourth Street (Tim Hortons’ corner); extending a raised median across Ross Street to limit access to and from the highway (right in/right out) and allowing full traffic movement on Fourth and at Shuswap Street, including advanced left-turn traffic lights.
In a report to council, Rob Niewenhuizen, city engineering and public works director, explained the history behind the improvements and stressed why they are needed.
“With the proposed improvements, we’re spacing out the intersection, and this is the whole issue, the light at Ross and the light at Alexander are too close together, and that’s pointed out in the traffic safety study,” said Niewenhuizen at the city’s development and planning meeting on Monday, Jan. 21. “Essentially, by spacing those lights out, you have a better safety factor on the highway. You would get full movement at Shuswap Street, the McLeod Street (SE) intersection would turn into a right in/right out, Alexander would remain the same, at Ross Street there would be a median, so right in/right out on both sides…
“Moving on to Fourth, this would become a fully mobile intersection, access, egress, advance lefts. We have a future Fourth Street parkade here, so now you’re funnelling traffic towards the parkade.”
Steve Sirett, MOTI district manager for the Okanagan-Shuswap, said he’s been working with Niewenhuizen over the past few years on this project, and there’s definitely a need to move forward with it.
“As you are all aware, we were prepared last spring to move forward with this and we do feel that it’s an important improvement along this corridor, especially with the accidents we’ve seen at those two signalized intersections.”
Sirett added the province would like to proceed with the upgrades this year (spring or fall), pending on ministry budget approval. He noted the partnership with the city should help to secure funding.
In his report, Niewenhuizen notes the province has provided verbal agreement to allow gateway signage improvements along the highway as well as the use of speed reader boards, both at the city’s expense.
Salmon Arm Mayor Alan Harrison asked that this verbal agreement be added to a motion to proceed with the improvements. This was supported by council. Harrison then suggested a second amendment, that installation of a red light camera at the intersection of Alexander Street and Highway 1 be included, or none of the improvements proceed.
Harrison explained how council’s pursuit of a red light camera at Alexander began in 2010 with a letter to the province.
He said an initial commitment to install the light was received from the province, then nothing. In 2012, the city was informed by the ministry that a study must first be done to show if the light was even necessary. The resulting 2013 study indicated the signalled intersections of Ross And Alexander streets were too close together, and a red-light camera could cause collisions. This, Harrison pointed out, would be alleviated by the proposed changes.
Sirett, however, said the additional spacing between the two intersections should resolve concerns, particularly relating to speeding commercial transport trucks, and negate the need for a red light camera.
“It’s something we can absolutely consider in the future,” said Sirett. “But I would want to complete these and monitor how it operates… because our expectation is these improvements will resolve that challenge.”
“I appreciate that comment,” responded Harrison. “I have to tell you I’m very skeptical because we’ve been working on this for 13 years and, while I totally understand what you’re saying, I’m not optimistic that if we go through with this process that a red light intersection camera may in the future go in at Alexander.”
A split decision resulted in the defeat of Harrison’s second motion, as councillors were reluctant to see the improvements delayed or not proceed because of the red light camera. But council did support a follow-up motion by Coun. Kevin Flynn, who suggested the city and the ministry review the improvements a year after their completion to determine whether a red light would further improve safety.