Wool­wich wants quicker ac­tion on road im­prove­ments

As re­gion drafts new trans­porta­tion master plan, widen­ing of Reg. Rd. 85 and Elmira by­pass route could be decades out

The Woolwich Observer - - NEWS - STEVE KANNON

WATER­LOO RE­GION’S DECADES-OUT PLAN for im­prov­ing grow­ing traf­fic con­ges­tion be­tween Elmira and points south doesn’t jibe with Wool­wich’s own con­cerns.

In adopt­ing a new trans­porta­tion master plan, the re­gion sees the widen­ing of Reg. Rd. 85/Arthur Street oc­cur­ring over the next 15 to 25 years, while a by­pass route around down­town Elmira is ear­marked be­yond the 2018-2041 time­line of the new plan­ning doc­u­ment.

Wool­wich wants to see the time­lines moved up, while the re­gion is hop­ing in­ter­sec­tion im­prove­ments at the St. Ja­cobs round­about and, per­haps, at Arthur Street and Lis­towel Road will ease some of the traf­fic woes in the mean­time.

A more last­ing so­lu­tion to traf­fic on Reg. Rd. 85 would see the route ex­panded to four lanes for the en­tire way from Hwy. 85 to Elmira, but that’s not likely for at least a cou­ple of decades. The new master plan has the south­ern por­tion – from Water­loo to St. Ja­cobs – on the radar in the 2018-2031 time­frame, with the other half in the fol­low­ing 10-year span.

Lo­gis­tics, en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies and fi­nances are all at play in the time­lines.

One of the big­gest hur­dles would be twin­ning of the bridge south of St. Ja­cobs, noted the re­gion’s trans­porta­tion di­rec­tor, Steve van De Keere, who pro­vided an up­date on the master plan to Wool­wich coun­cil ear­lier this month.

Ini­tial plan­ning work, in­clud­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment (EA) process, for an ex­pan­sion of Reg. Rd. 85 are likely to get un­der­way this year or next, he noted. An Elmira by­pass route, while not in the queue be­fore 2041, will see an EA get un­der­way within the next three years.

“We’ve looked at the tim­ing for road widen­ings, based on vol­umes,” he said.

Over­all, the re­gion’s fo­cus on tran­sit, walk­ing and cycling will have lit­tle if any im­pact on traf­fic con­ges­tion in the town­ship, par­tic­u­larly the route be­tween Elmira and Water­loo.

In the in­terim, the re­gion will look at re­duc­ing traf­fic bot­tle­necks at the St. Ja­cobs round­about by ex­tend­ing the right lanes in both di­rec­tions. That in­ter­sec­tion tends to be the weak­est link in the flow of traf­fic, van De Keere sug­gested.

Ex­tended lanes would be par­tic­u­larly help­ful with slow-mov­ing ve­hi­cles such as trucks, noted Dan Ken­na­ley, Wool­wich’s di­rec­tor of en­gi­neer­ing and plan­ning. Much longer lanes would al­low trucks to keep to the right, get­ting up to high­way speed be­fore merg­ing back into sin­gle­lane traf­fic, for in­stance.

It’s a stop­gap mea­sure that was wel­comed by Wool­wich Mayor Sandy Shantz, who said this week she’s con­tin­u­ing to look for an­swers from re­gional staff.

Start­ing an EA process that runs three years, for ex­am­ple, doesn’t help a prob­lem that needs to be ad­dressed now, she noted.

“Wait­ing three years for a so­lu­tion is not the an­swer.”

As for the ac­tual ex­pan­sion of the Reg. Rd. 85, Shantz ac­knowl­edges that’s years away yet.

A by­pass route is some­what be­yond the pale given the time­line be­yond 2041.

“At least it’s on paper – it’s a start,” she said. “It’s some­thing we’ll have to con­tinue to push for.”

For his part, van De Keere said an Elmira by­pass is a very long-term project. The re­gion will have to de­ter­mine if there’s a need and, then, where it fits into its list of pri­or­i­ties.

“A new road takes at least 10 to 15 years. Even if we started to­day on the by­pass, the ear­li­est we could get it done is prob­a­bly 15 years,” he said, cit­ing the ex­am­ple of the ex­ten­sion of River Road in Kitch­ener, where plan­ning has been un­der­way since 2003 and there’s still no con­struc­tion un­der­way. “It gives you a bit of a com­par­i­son.”

While some­what mol­li­fied by the re­gion’s prom­ise to start the EA process within three years, Ken­na­ley said the by­pass route is a pri­or­ity for Wool­wich.

“A case can be made that the by­pass is needed now, not in 2041-plus.”

With that in mind, the town­ship has be­gun map­ping out its own al­ter­na­tive route in con­junc­tion with longer-term de­vel­op­ment of an in­dus­trial sub­di­vi­sion on the east is of Elmira. In re­draw­ing the town’s boundary lines, lo­cal plan­ners have set the stage for road that would run from south to north par­al­lel to Arthur Street but by­pass­ing the core.

“We’ve started the process through boundary ra­tion­al­iza­tion in Elmira that will see the de­vel­op­ment of a new ar­te­rial road,” Ken­na­ley ex­plained, adding the re­gion should take note of the work be­ing done by the town­ship. “They’re go­ing to have to take into ac­count what we’re do­ing in terms of this new ar­te­rial road.”

Shantz said the re­gion should be work­ing with Wool­wich to en­sure an op­ti­mal con­fig­u­ra­tion of a by­pass route.

“It just makes sense to me to do the full plan,” she said.

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