BIG PLANS FOR BANWELL ROAD
Proposed improvements worth $50M
An “absolutely scary” bike ride along the gravel shoulder on Banwell Road this week has prompted Coun. Irek Kusmierczyk to ramp up his campaign for a proposed $50-million project to improve the busy, unlit arterial road.
A big portion of that hefty price tag is for a new $28-million interchange at E.C. Row Expressway to replace the signalized intersection that has the most collisions in the city.
An environmental assessment was approved by council in 2016 as a blueprint to solve the traffic woes on this roadway between Tecumseh Road East and the CP railway tracks south of the expressway. But for the last several months it has sat on the shelf, and is not included in the city’s five-year capital forecast, Kusmierczyk said.
“Now we need to implement it,” he said, reporting that he contacted the mayor and the city engineer immediately after riding his bike on Banwell, which has two lanes with gravel shoulders, ditches, no street lights and no sidewalks.
“It was absolutely scary, because it was pitch black and there were no markings on the side of the road,” the Ward 7 councillor said, recalling how he’s often seen young people walking dangerously at night along the gravel shoulder. Older people have contacted him complaining they can’t see when they’re driving along Banwell at night, especially when it’s raining.
He said the road is getting increasingly busy because it serves as the commuter route for residents living in the “booming ” East Riverside and Forest Glade neighbourhoods. A busy road with country road conditions creates huge safety concerns, he said, calling the project a “need to have,” rather than a “like to have.”
Although he conceded it’s a “pricey project,” he argued that “to me, it’s unacceptable we don’t even have basic lighting.”
The environmental assessment calls for four-laning of the road, with lighting, a multi-use path as well as a sidewalk, a new signalized intersection at Palmetto Street and a roundabout at the Wildwood Drive/Mulberry Drive intersection. The roundabout is currently in the design phase, the first step toward it becoming a reality in the coming years. But the entire project, particularly the interchange at E.C. Row, is a “very, very expensive proposition,” said city engineer Mark Winterton, who said the ultimate decision on what projects to put high on the priority list rests with city council.
“Would I love to build it? You bet. But it has to be weighed with the priorities of the city and our ability to pay for stuff like that, and that’s a very expensive piece of infrastructure.”
The city spends roughly $8 million to $10 million annually on fixing deficient roads and $10 million to $12 million improving capacity by expanding or building new roads. The $28-million Banwell/E.C. Row interchange would exceed one year’s entire budget Winterton said. “That’s how big a project that would be for us.”
Winterton said the Banwell project would only happen with help from the provincial or federal government.
Kusmierczyk agreed that upperlevel funding is crucial. “But with the infrastructure funds that are there right now, from the federal government stimulus program, this is the time to go after it.”
He said he’s also aware that there are other big projects the Banwell project will be competing with, citing the plan to expand Lauzon Parkway and the Central Box project to improve traffic around Dominion Boulevard and Dougall Avenue in South Windsor.
“But in the east end, the pace of infrastructure should go hand in hand with the pace of development, and we know East Riverside is booming right now.”
The environmental assessment predicts that traffic volumes on Banwell will “more than double” in the future as the surrounding area is developed and growth continues in the east side of the city and Tecumseh.
The Banwell/E.C. Row intersection has the most collisions in the city, and most of them — 79 per cent — are rear-enders. Elsewhere in the city, rear-end collisions make up just 33 per cent of crashes at signalized intersections.
“Most of the rear-end collisions are likely as a result of congestion causing unexpected slowdowns, long queues and increased driver frustration,” the environmental assessment says. It adds that only minor improvements can be made to the existing intersection because of high traffic volumes and there being no room to expand.
The intersection has the city’s fourth-highest frequency of collisions, at 1.34 per million entering vehicles, according to data from 2009 to 2013. The city average at signalized intersections is 0.48 collisions. During that time period, 96 million vehicles went through the intersection.
Banwell is one of the few signalized intersections on the expressway within city limits, the others being where it ends at Ojibway Parkway. Beyond city limits, the expressway turns into County Road 20.
Winterton said when it comes to road needs in the city, it would cost about $300 million to fix deficient roads and a few hundred million more to make capacity improvements like the Banwell Road, the Riverside Vista project, Cabana Road expansion and Walker Road improvements.
“So all of a sudden, you’re approaching $1 billion in infrastructure needs, so it all has to be weighed and we get about $25 million in a given year.”
With the infrastructure funds that are there right now, from the federal government stimulus program, this is the time to go after it.
Ward 7 Coun. Irek Kusmierczyk walks along the side of Banwell Road Friday where there are no sidewalks or street lights. Kusmierczyk is pushing for nearly $50-million in improvements for Banwell Road.