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$16-million traffic plan called waste of money

The City of Red Deer is wasting millions of dollars on the intersection of Ross Street and Taylor Drive, says a former regional director of Alberta Transportation.

Jim Bussard has sent a detailed letter to city council, expressing his disdain for $16-million worth of upgrades to Taylor Drive, Ross Street and the 54th Avenue North intersection.

The Taylor Drive Concept Plan (43rd Street to Ross Street) will result in a very unsafe intersection, said Bussard, who knows the intersection well because he was directly involved in the project that took the rail lines out of downtown and created the Taylor Drive traffic corridor in its path. He was regional director of Alberta Transportation in Red Deer from 1978 to 1993.

“The indirect traffic movements planned will confuse, bewilder and create accident situations,” said Bussard. “Sixteen million dollars will have been spent to make traffic movement worse.”

One of the main changes is to turn the four-pronged intersection of Taylor Drive and Ross Street/49th Street into three simpler three-pronged intersections.

Another key change would make Alexander Way (48th Street) into an all-turns intersection that features a wide pedestrian promenade connecting Riverlands to the downtown.

A roundabout will be installed at the intersection of Alexander Way and 54th Avenue.

Bussard said these changes have no user benefit except the pie-in-the-sky dreams for Riverlands, an area west of Taylor Drive that’s currently made up of light industrial and commercial businesses. The city plans for this to become a thriving area of mixed uses.

Bussard said a benefit cost study should be required for any major municipal capital project. Without this study, there’s no sound justification for the plan.

He suggested a roundabout —a modernized traffic circle where drivers must always yield to traffic in the circle — is the better way to go at Taylor and Ross. A 2011 study in the United States said these roundabouts show higher traffic capacity with lower speeds and fewer crashes.

Mayor Morris Flewwelling said that this is a complex, high-traffic intersection and leads to a fair amount of confusion. Traffic consultants came up with these solutions.

“I think they would have discarded the roundabout idea because you need equal volumes of traffic on all legs,” said Flewwelling. “And with roundabouts, pedestrian crossings are very, very difficult.”

Adding lights from Ross Street to 43rd Street will be fine, as long as the signals are co-ordinated, added Flewwelling.

He expects that construction will get underway in 2014. Flewwelling figures that they don’t have any choice but to go ahead with these changes.

“You can’t have 35 acres of prime downtown land with no access,” said the mayor.

The Taylor Drive Concept Plan was approved in October 2011, along with the Riverlands Area Redevelopment Plan. Taylor Drive changes were expected to streamline traffic and make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists.

Flewwelling and Councillors Paul Harris, Cindy Jefferies, Lynne Mulder, Dianne Wyntjes and Tara Veer supported it while Councillors Frank Wong, Buck Buchanan and Chris Stephan were opposed.

Council then approved $5.7 million in its 2013 capital budget for the improvements to Alexander Way (48th Street) and Taylor Drive intersection.

Stephan doesn’t think the changes will make the Ross Street and Taylor Drive intersection better.

“Spending the amount of dollars that we’re looking at, I just don’t see it as a good use of taxpayers’ money,” said Stephan.

Wong agreed the project won’t make any improvements and is too costly.

“They are going to have four sets of lights from Ross Street to 43rd Street by the hospital, so it defeats the purpose of being an arterial,” added Wong. “The argument is they want people to be able to walk to Riverlands.”

Resident Shirley Hocken urged the city in December to hold more public meetings on the changes coming to Taylor Drive and Alexander Way because she felt the public needed to be more informed about potential impacts.

Charity Dyke, the city’s Greater Downtown co-ordinator, replied that as the city moves forward on the Riverlands and Taylor Drive plans, there will be more communication with citizens.



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