Vehicles wait to turn left at the intersection of Northfield Road and the old Island Highway.

Vehicles wait to turn left at the intersection of Northfield Road and the old Island Highway.

Rail uncertainty could delay fix for bad Nanaimo intersection

Nanaimo city council will consider a delay for an intersection upgrade at Northfield Road.

Safety upgrades for a high-crash Nanaimo intersection could be postponed, due to the uncertainty of rail.

Nanaimo city staff members are recommending politicians hold off on safety work at Northfield Road, Boundary Avenue and Highway 19A for a year – or at least until there’s more certainty about the future of rail on Vancouver Island.

The site, once named the third-highest crash intersection on Vancouver Island, saw a total 112 collisions in 2012 and 2013, according to the most recent statistics by ICBC. It’s considered a high-concern location for the city and B.C. government because of collisions and an upgrade project would aim to make it safer with additions like a southbound acceleration lane from Northfield Road to the highway.

So far it’s had two delays since 2014 because of increased costs and wrinkles in rail design. The recent recommendation to postpone the project is a result of recent decisions by local government, including the Regional District of Nanaimo’s vote to cancel $945,000 to help revive passenger rail, a city report shows.

Geoff Goodall, the city’s director of engineering and public works, said a fair component of the project is directly related to rail. The total project has been estimated at $3.1 million while costs tied to the active rail crossing are about $1.5 million, half of which would be paid by the municipality. There are also potential future costs to upgrade the crossing if there’s high-speed or passenger rail.

“If they don’t get passenger rail on the tracks then we’re likely not going to have rail at all in the future…” said Goodall. “We don’t want to have spent all this money in upgrades on this project and have the rail not there tomorrow.”

Goodall said it’s the city’s desire, from a staff perspective, to address the safety concerns as soon as possible, but city staff are also trying to do it in a responsible way “as far as what we end up with” and uncertainty around rail “really complicates this intersection for us.”

City councillor Bill Bestwick said it would make a lot of common sense for the city to know more specifics about the rail service prior to expending likely in the neighbourhood of $1.5 million or more on the rail upgrade.

“If, for example, rail was not continued, then it would be a considerable amount of money spent wastefully,” he said.

Coun. Gord Fuller called it a no-win situation for a politician, adding you can be slammed for spending the money or for the safety and he cares about both equally. But given information he has now, including that municipalities want a review of the Island Corridor Foundation plans, he said everything is in limbo.

“So to me if we spend millions of dollars throwing in an intersection that could essentially be taken out a year later because there’s no longer going to be rail service, I think we would be better off to wait for the year,” he said.

Nanaimo city council votes on the intersection recommendation at an open council meeting on Monday (May 9).

Pop-up banner image ×