Safety upgrades are back on track at a Nanaimo intersection despite some councillors’ concerns about the cost of rail and its uncertain future.
On Monday, Nanaimo council voted 5-3 to resume an improvement project at the Northfield Road, Boundary Avenue and Highway 19A intersection after its one-year delay.
The intersection, which saw 161 crashes from 2013-15 according to ICBC statistics, is considered a high-concern location for the City of Nanaimo and B.C. government and both will share the cost of improvements, originally estimated at $3.1 million.
Changes span a protected left-turn only traffic signal for vehicles turning left from the highway onto Northfield Road to help reduce the risk of collisions to an acceleration lane for cars entering the highway from Northfield and a dedicated left-turn lane from Northfield onto Boundary Avenue.
In 2016, city council postponed work for up to a year to see what happens with passenger rail. Project costs tied to rail were about $1.5 million – with $560,000 budgeted for potential future costs if tracks are upgraded.
A recent city report by Brad McRae, chief operating officer, says it’s impossible to predict the outcome of what’s going to happen with rail and whether it will be an active train corridor in years to come and considering that uncertainty, the accident rate at the intersection and the partnership with the B.C. Ministry of Transportation, staff recommend proceeding with the project.
Councillors Bill Bestwick, Jim Kipp and Gord Fuller were opposed.
Bestwick said he doesn’t wish to see any accidents or injuries, but it’s hard for him to vote or speak in favor of the motion when he doesn’t support millions of dollars being spent on rail crossing improvements because he prefers “for our future to see rails removed.”
Kipp said a concern for him is the “railway thing hanging over us, the cost of this railway and the motions that are coming forward from other communities to put that back to a trail way instead of rail.” Fuller was also concerned about the potential of rail to trail and spending money on a rail crossing that could be taken out.
Coun. Jerry Hong supported the upgrade, but said he still thinks it’s a waste of money to put infrastructure money in for rail, the design isn’t ideal and there needs to be a turning lane off the highway going south.
He also said other intersections are more critical, such as Mary Ellen Drive and Bowen Road and the highway.
Coun. Diane Brennan also supported the intersection work.
“We can’t just keep kicking this can down the road. We’re going to lose half our funding for it, we’re going to end up having to spend a lot more money and we have no idea, we would be making that decision based on no information whatsoever because we haven’t a clue what’s going to happen to the railway,” she said.
“We know it’s there now, we know it’s a dangerous intersection and we know that our citizens want it dealt with. Those three things tell me that this is a good decision.”
Poul Rosen, the city’s senior manager of engineering, said as staff resources become available they will start working on the project. Staff are committed to this year’s projects, including a roundabout at Rutherford and Nelson roads and “it might be a few months before we have some staff resources to really apply to this,” he said.
The original project estimate has to be updated to reflect market conditions and the exchange rate with rail hardware coming from the United States, Rosen said, adding the city has to re-engage with the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Southern Rail and refresh engagement with the city’s consultant.