Council Quarrels Over Crossing Signs


Robert Thomas

Crossing a busy street can sometimes be a big chore but it seems that deciding on which corner to modernize can likewise be a little tricky as well.

When it comes to the issue of improved technology for pedestrian crossings, City Manager Jim Puffalt seemingly acted as a traffic cop, complete with whistle, to clear out a traffic jam.

New traffic controls and intersection upgrades for the intersections of 1st Ave NW and Caribou Street and at Lillooet Street and 9th Ave SW were big topics at Monday's City Council, as was a request for $186,000 additional budget cash to get the job done.

Speaking to Council, Josh Mickelborough, City Engineer, said the additional funds were needed because of an inaccurate carryover estimate from last year and geometric controls (things such as asphalt and cement curbs) were not included in the 2018/2019 budget.

“Budgets are estimates, and quite often at budget time we are dealing with conceptual estimates and they can be out 40 to 50 per cent.” Mickelborough stated.

Because the work in 2017 was not completed and instead completed in 2018 there was an unclear scope of how much was left over in the budget as carry-over between the two construction seasons.

Other problems affecting the budgeting process were staff turnover and a piecemeal approach which threw up another hazard warning in the estimating, he said, adding that in 2019 there would be more accuracy in the process.

Mickelborough said that the additional funding, if approved, would be $40,000 from development levies and transferring $140,000 from the bridges and structures reserves.

However “the Coteau Street East bridge slated for demolition could require more funding,” he said.

Councillor Brian Swanson came out like a school safety patrol to stop the flow and speak about the large amount of infrastructure requiring work and how there would always be plenty to do but he added that restraint was necessary.

“There is not a bottomless put of money to correct all of those,” Coun Swanson said.

He wanted to see funding cut to do the work at the 1st Ave NW and Caribou Street West intersection and prioritize the work at the 9th Ave SW and Lillooet Street intersection. As a backup plan, if there was a major failure to convert 1st Ave NW and Caribou St W to a Four Way Stop.

“Months ago it was converted to a Four Way Stop and it worked very well...rather than robbing other infrastructure accounts…I feel the city can make due with a Four Way Stop,” he said.

Councillor Chris Warren asked about the lateness of the construction season and the time it takes to tender a project and how much work could be done.

Mickelborough said it was a “valid point, very much contingent on the weather…we do want to get it in place but at least get the control work done over the winter.”

Coun Warren then spoke about budgeting and discussions in the area of priority based budgeting.

“What can we afford and what can we achieve are two vital questions,” he said going on to say that Administration needed to be asked "what are the priorities?”

Councillor Crystal Froese asked that, assuming the work was deferred would contractors then be in place for 2019.

“The recommendation here is to reevaluate where we are at…we feel these are the priority intersections and should be completed this year,” Mickelborough replied.

It needs to be noted that the Engineering Department prioritizes intersection upgrades based on accident severity statistics and 1st Ave NW and Caribou Street W is an intersection with a higher number than 9th Ave NW and Lillooet St W.

Coun Swanson dismissed Mickelborough, stating that he would like to see the accident stats on the Four Way Stop versus when there were lights.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that the more pressing intersection is 9th and Lillooet,” he said.

He expressed his concerns about the City's overall financial direction as there will soon be $30 million in borrowing and the effect upon the community.

“The option we spend more and borrow more is not acceptable to me.”

Coun Warren said he could not support the motion.

“I’m not in favour of arbitrarily picking an intersection as a Council.”

The motion failed in a 3-3 tie. With Coun Luhning, Swanson and Scott McMann in support.

Coun Warren tried to throw debate into reverse and clear the traffic jam which had developed.

“Let's work within our budget and adjust the five year capital plan,” he said.

He made a motion to defer some projects included in the original 2018 budget to 2019 and adjust the Five Year Capital Plan.’ Mickelborough said that if the Engineering department had to establish where to prioritize the work it would be done using the Accident Severity Ratings. The intersection at 1st NW and Caribou W would then be the top priority.

Coun Froese spoke against what she saw as piecemealing the needed upgrades, indicating she supported spending the $186,000.

She would later say “I don’t see what the problem is to the allocation of the $186,000; so we can get on with this.”

Coun Warren spoke about the lateness in the construction year and in what could be done given the three to four weeks it will take to tender out the work and get started.

Coun Swanson said it was unfair to Administration to make the decision on what to defer.

“It’s a fuzzy decision and forces Admin to read our minds.”

Councillor Scott McMann said “I’m a little unclear as to the ramifications of this me the most important intersection we get fixed (is 9th NW and Lillooet)…to me that is the most important intersection we get fixed. We are going to have to set some priorities I would like to move that one to number one and go from there."

Mayor Frasier Tolmie stated there were two ways of handling the issue and "the question comes down to which is the right one.”

Prioritizing the work to fit in the 2018 budget “doesn’t give a clear direction” or “what is the stats on those two corners?”

Mickelborough apologized for not having the stats available at Council but knew 1st Ave NW and Caribou West had the highest Accident Severity Rating.

“One accident, one personal injury accident would not change the rating...In the range of 14 to 15 accidents (would be needed) to change the ratio.”

Despite not having accurate accident statistics Coun Swanson said he was ready to make the decision.

“I have seen traffic backed up over the (9th Ave SW) bridge, that is the main concern…I’m not willing to pass this over to Administration and ask them to do what?”

In a 5-1 vote, with only Coun Warren in favour, the motion was defeated.

City Manager Jim Puffalt entered the attempts to clear the growing pile up and get a decision to use the available budget at both intersections and clear up the traffic jam of debate.

“If you give us budget we can at least make incremental changes to the intersections this year…let us do the traffic lights.”

Despite Coun Swanson objecting to what he saw as “still spending more than you have” the motion passed 5-1 with Coun Swanson opposed.