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Another $1.4 million approved for Nanaimo’s Metral Drive project

Councillors discuss complaints and virtues of ‘complete streets’ project
$1.4 million has been added to the second phase of the Metral Drive complete streets project, but some city councillors say they’re receiving complaints from residents and business owners about traffic flow, parking and property access issues where the first phase of multi-million dollar project has been completed. (News Bulletin file photo)

More funding has been approved for Phase 2 of the Metral Drive reconstruction, but in spite of receiving accolades and awards, not everyone is happy about the ‘complete streets’ project.

The project was discussed at a finance and audit committee meeting Wednesday, July 20. City staff asked that $1.4 million be added Phase 2 of the project budget, with $875,000 coming from the community works reserve fund, $35,000 from the sewer reserve and $490,000 from the water reserve.

The budget for the Phase 2 portion of the project was $7.1 million, but a volatile construction market and physical factors, such as unsuitable soil conditions, are expected to push the project over budget, staff reported. Phase 1 of the project came in more than $1.1 million under budget.

But the city has heard complaints about the narrowing of Metral Drive’s lanes, reduced parking, new three-way-stop intersections and difficulty for drivers accessing businesses and private properties.

READ ALSO: Re-aligned intersections meant to ‘change the character’ of Nanaimo’s Metral Drive

Annalisa Fipke, project engineer, explained the processes and research that go into determining traffic volumes, speeds and flow before starting such projects.

“We model also into the future on what we expect from a development standpoint,” she said, adding that computer modelling techniques are used to design the street and predict future growth and traffic volumes.

Fipke said she received complaints about the changes, but has also heard from Pleasant Valley Elementary School and community groups who are “ecstatic and say it operates a lot better now than it did before.”

“It goes without saying that change is difficult and the change management is hard and there’s always going to be an adjustment period for people to … get used to these new designs,” she said.

Coun. Erin Hemmens, asked about a statement in the staff report that said there has been a “significant increase in land redevelopment activity” since the completion of Phase 1, and Dale Lindsay, general manager of development services, said there are applications in the works for projects there.

“One of the significant costs for development is frontage works and services, so if developers can find property where the work has been done and there’s no cost to them to move forward with their project, it’s a significant incentive,” Lindsay said. “So, how much of that is having the street completed, having the roadwork done versus the type of street, I can’t say for sure, but we do know that where we see public investment, private investment follows, consistently.”

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong asked if the city has spoken with the area’s business operators, “because conversations I’ve had with businesses is that the new design has negatively impacted their businesses to the point where some are actually leaving the area.”

Bill Sims, general manager of engineering and public works, said Metral Drive is currently in a “really awkward stage of construction.”

“I think the public will find and we’ve found, certainly in my career here at the city , that anytime there’s disruption once things normalize and get back to a stable state, things calm down, traffic finds its way and people find their way back to those businesses and I think that’ll be the case here,” he said.

Armstrong suggested one in 20 people like the design and the other 19 hate it.

“I think that’s something we need to look at and maybe do a follow up with surveys later, since we’re adopting complete streets,” she said.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said he thought aspects of the project are good and even had a cyclist say how much he appreciated how Metral Drive is developing, but he’d also heard from residents with serious concerns about what it will be like when finished.

“I don’t think we should be trivializing the concerns that other people have expressed and I think it goes beyond just the construction phase,” Thorpe said. “We’ve acknowledged that this is sort of a pilot project for complete streets and, yes, we’ve won awards, but pretty pictures are one thing, efficient operation of a transportation system is another, so I’ll be very curious to see, when it is finished, how it is for all parties concerned.”

Mayor Leonard Krog said the discussion was a teachable moment and asked staff to “toot the horn” about the Metral Drive project’s virtues.

“I’m willing to bet when the project is finished we’ll get even more accolades. That those people who have raised concerns will, if they have the courage to do so, come forward and compliment the city and everyone who’s had involvement with this project,” the mayor said.

Coun. Jim Turley said at this stage of construction, agreement with the project or not is irrelevant and the funding needs to be approved to complete the project.

The committee voted in favour, with Thorpe opposed, to approve the additional $1.4 million for the project.

READ ALSO: City of Nanaimo receives $500,000 grant to go toward Metral Drive work

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Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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