City of Nanaimo staff have recommended delaying a proposed secondary access route in Chase River a few years later than had been planned.
For years, the city has toyed with the idea of building a two-lane road called the Cranberry Connector, which would link Extension Road and Tenth Street with either Wexford Road or Twelfth Street, eliminating the need for motorists to travel along the Trans-Canada Highway.
Many residents living along in the Chase River, Cinnabar Valley and Extension neighbourhoods wishing to travel north have to take Extension Road, which eventually turns into Cranberry Road, and then turn left at the Trans-Canada Highway intersection to reach Tenth Street.
Approximately 180 metres of the Cranberry Connector was built more than a decade ago – at the same time as Nanaimo Fire Rescue Station No. 4, which is located on the connector road – for roughly $525,000 according to a 2007 staff report.
However, the remaining section of the connector is unfinished. Earlier this year, according to a governance and priorities committee document, staff anticipated construction on the road to begin in 2023. But now it appears that the Cranberry Connector project will be delayed even further.
During a finance and audit committee meeting Oct. 16, Poul Rosen, the city’s director of engineering, said the project should be delayed until at least 2027. He said even though there is a desire in the Chase River neighbourhood for the Cranberry Connector to move forward, staff are pushing the project back in order to conduct more studies on the area.
“We have delayed it a little bit, deliberately, because it gives us a little bit more time to get our head around what the best project here is,” he said. “There is also a lot going on in the south end in terms of potential development that would tie into this and would potentially impact [it].”
Additional details including cost or length for the proposed connector were not mentioned to councillors during Wednesday’s presentation. Completing the Cranberry Connector, according to a 2017 staff report, would cost an estimated $5.8 million if the project were to begin in 2021, and Rosen told councillors the Cranberry Connector is an “expensive” project.
He said the route could also change because staff are currently in the process of conducting a study that would examine all route options.
“It may not end up looking like that,” he said. “It might look slightly different than that. The other thing is depending on the alignment, there might be a bunch of property acquisition and we would have to explore that and there are also budget pressures.”
Another reason for the delay is that the proposed route goes through a wetland, according to Rosen.
“Back when this [conceptualized] there wasn’t quite the same level of environmental concern, so we have had an environmental study done to look at what the impacts would be,” he said.
Rosen said the proposed route is still considered a “viable” option but would require extensive mitigation work to reduce the environmental impact on the wetland. He also said the project would be funded through development cost charges the city collects.
Coun. Zeni Maartman wondered whether the project could actually be sped up instead of pushed back and called the situation at the Cranberry Road and Trans-Canada Highway intersection “incredibly crazy.”
“I just think this is an area that is really impacted right now with the traffic and we’ve heard from local residents around there,” she said.
A 1999 city planning document on the Chase River neighbourhood notes that consideration should “be given to developing an emergency access” in the event that Extension Road is blocked and that there is a need for the Cranberry Connector.
Coun. Don Bonner said the city’s proposal doesn’t address concerns around safety for the Extension neighbourhood because there still wouldn’t be an alternate route out of the neighbourhood in the event of an emergency.
Meanwhile, Coun. Erin Hemmens said she shares similar concerns as Maartman, adding that said she’s heard from residents who complain they are having to wait “three or four” lights in order to get onto the highway from Cranberry Road. She also felt the timeline was too long for the project.
“I’m really glad to see that we are doing some studies but 2027 feels like a long way out for this project,” Hemmens said.
Discussion about the Cranberry Connector continued at a special finance and audit committee meeting Oct. 21. Rosen said the study of transportation improvement options for the area is expected to be completed in 2020.
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