Councillors speak in favour of changes to intersection
Support in general was expressed Monday when Prince George city council members commented on major changes in store for the vicinity of Highway 97 and 22nd Avenue in answer to the death of a College of New Caledonia student this past summer.
Timing of the lights for traffic and pedestrians will be adjusted to reduce the potential for conflicts but perhaps the most significant move will be closure of the northbound lane along Westwood Avenue.
To begin in January, it will reduce congestion at the intersection but will also mean drivers trying to get onto Highway 97 North will have to turn east onto Massey and then turn right onto the on-ramp just past the overpass.
About 1,800 vehicles each day pass through the area to be closed, peaking at about 180 per hour in the afternoon and 130 per hour in the morning, while the on-ramp is under-used, city engineering and public works general manager Dave Dyer told council.
The changes have been a source of controversy on social media with posters complaining they’re being penalized for the acts of jaywalkers crossing the highway and saying it will add time to their commutes. Coun. Brian Skakun echoed those comments on Monday night but the rest of council generally endorsed the plan when given a chance to comment following an update from Dyer.
The changes to the traffic lights is a Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure project while Westwood is a city road. Council had no say on whether the work can go ahead and the update was provided for information.
“There is no doubt we have to do some improvements there but I don’t think we necessarily have to make such a major disruption to our traffic,” Skakun said and added an underpass or an overpass paid for by the province would have been a better option.
However, Coun. Murry Krause suggested an underpass won’t reduce jaywalking.
“If people won’t go to a crosswalk to cross, they won’t go to an underpass either,” he said and added many people, especially women, avoid such darkened places at night in the name of personal safety.
While she agreed that 1,800 vehicles is a lot, Coun. Terry McConnachie said the benefits will outweigh the drawbacks.
“Folks just need to slow down and plan for greater time for where they’re going,” she added. “I think that would much improve the situation throughout our whole city.”
Coun. Garth Frizzell noted Prince George Secondary School is in the area and CNC is growing by leaps and bounds and said the steps amount to a solution that is “probably going to save lives.”
Coun. Susan Scott said it’s already a scramble on Westwood as drivers dodge multiple lanes to get into the left lane on 22nd.
“It isn’t pretty,” she said.
If the lane isn’t closed, Coun. Frank Everitt said the traffic along Westwood will be backed up even more once the new timing for the lights is in place and added the city’s population is growing.
“We’ve got more traffic on the road and we’ve got people who are in a heckuva hurry to go nowhere... and occasionally, we need to have changes that make us do things differently and this is one of them,” he added.
Coun. Cori Ramsay also spoke in favour, saying it’s going to be a benefit in terms of safety.
Coun. Kyle Sampson took the same position.
“It’s an inconvenience but if it’s going to add to the safety of our residents, it’s the right choice,” he said.
Mayor Lyn Hall said he remains concerned about the “pinch point” on the east side where it can be difficult to turn onto the highway from the frontage road and, for those heading east, getting onto Griffiths Avenue. He asked Dyer to raise the matter with the ministry.
Dyer said concrete barriers will be used to close off the lane over the short term while the city’s capital plan calls for permanent removal of the asphalt next year at a cost of about $200,000. A message board sign at Massey and Westwood will be used to alert drivers to the closure.
The flashing amber light alerting drivers that someone wants to cross Massey at the overpass – often used by PGSS students – will remain in place but will be “something we’ll definitely keep an eye on,” Dyer also said.
Changes are coming for Westwood Drive at 22nd Avenue and how traffic gets onto the highway.