Intersection upgrade at north-end Nanaimo mall hinges on developer

NANAIMO – The city has dollars in this year's budget to help build a roundabout at a mall intersection on Mary Ellen Drive.

Improvements for traffic troubles at a north Nanaimo intersection are in the hands of private landowners, according to Dean Mousseau, the city’s manager of engineering and subdivision.

The City of Nanaimo has near-complete designs and $100,000 set aside this year for a new roundabout at the four-way mall intersection on Mary Ellen Drive that’s become known for backups and egress challenges. But Mousseau says it’s not a city project and how quickly it gets underway is entirely at the discretion of private landowners.

“Essentially we are just waiting for the undeveloped property [north of Woodgrove Crossing] to pull the trigger,” he said.

The four-way, wedged between two major highways and shopping centres, has been an issue for mall customers, who complain to the city annually about access. There have been some improvements, including a flagger hired at Christmastime, but Joanne Mengual, owner of Woodgrove Crossing’s M&M Meat Shops said the intersection remains a deterrent for going into the mall. The problem is turning left and getting out of the complex. There’s traffic coming from both ends, there’s too many distractions and too many lanes to watch,  said Mengual, who calls it an accident zone and believes a roundabout or light would slow traffic down and give people a chance to turn left.

Vojto Sinn, owner of ABC Restaurant, also sees the intersection as a problem and said during busy times like Christmas it takes 25 minutes to get out because people don’t know who to yield to.

Both store owners were under the impression something would be done this spring but when it starts is all up to landowners, according to Mousseau.

While the city is interested in providing capital and ensuring the project doesn’t negatively affect traffic, the issue is access to private property, he said

The roundabout and pedestrian crossing will cost $450,000, the majority of which will be paid for through private contributions.

The owners of vacant property and previously proposed commercial development behind Woodgrove Crossing are under condition by the city to put up money and construct the traffic measure as a condition of occupancy but dollars don’t have to be put up until there’s a building permit.

Woodgrove Crossing’s owners, Nicola Crosby, could also accelerate the project with a cash contribution but Christina Laing, the company’s vice-president of asset management, said it’s not something of urgency for them and spending what would amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars “doesn’t make good business sense.”

They are, however, involved in discussions with the city and other stakeholders and do see the project as the right thing to do as there’s further development.

The developer of the vacant property was unable to be reached before press time.