Like an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand, Alberta Transportation refuses to see the common-sense solution to the dangerous Hwy 11 and 50th Street (Hwy 781) intersection on Sylvan Lake’s southern edge.
Whether you are from Sylvan or not, if you’re a Central Albertan you’ve probably passed by or used the intersection. And thousands of other travellers from elsewhere, many tourists, also pass by or use the intersection, especially during busy summer traffic times. Hwy 11 is the gateway to the West Country and the main route to Sylvan.
The Hwy 781 intersection — where three people were recently killed in two separate left-turning collisions — needs traffic lights.
But deaths or not, Alberta Transportation will not put them in.
That’s because there are undefined, unknown, undecided plans to some day in the future — but no one knows when — close the intersection. And some unknown day in the future day there are plans to put in an overpass at the Hwy 11-Hwy 20 intersection, which is located just east of the 50th Street-Hwy 781 intersection.
Even further in the future, an overpass at Range Road 15 (60th Street in Sylvan) is planned.
For now, Alberta Transportation’s solution to the safety concerns about the Hwy 11-Hwy 781 intersection is to put an end to left turns at the intersection, making the already confusing, and harrowing and deadly, intersection available for right-in and right-out turns only.
Alberta Transportation’s means of convincing Sylvan town council last month to accept the right-in, right-out solution was $4.5 million.
The department will use the money to upgrade Memorial Trail (which runs south of and parallel to Hwy 11) in Sylvan Lake to a two-lane paved road between Range Road 15 and Hwy 20, beginning in the spring. This will allow traffic that can no longer turn left at Hwys 11 and 781 to travel an alternative route to make left turns onto Hwy 11. One of the safest ways would, of course, be to travel the new Memorial Trail to the Hwy 11-Hwy 20 intersection where there are lights.
Not everyone will do that. Left-hand turns will also likely occur further west on Hwy 11, at 60th Street where there are no lights.
Once the right-in, right-out system begins, Alberta Transportation will be able to close the Hwys 11-781 intersection, although no date has been set for this.
In 2002, when the closure idea was first suggested by Alberta Transportation, an irate Sylvan Lake Chamber of Commerce opposed the idea with a 2,000-signature petition. I would be surprised if they aren’t a little upset with the latest plans.
Closing Hwy 11 access off 50th Street (Hwy 781) will end a lot of traffic along Sylvan’s main north-south drag, having an impact on businesses.
The right-in, right-out solution will likely not make that stretch of Hwy 11 from the Hwy 20 to 781 intersections one bit safer. It’s a confusing stretch, and unless the cops are there 24-7, a bit of a racetrack. If you’ve driven it, you know what I mean. RCMP do.
Sgt. Duncan Babchuk, head of the Sylvan Lake RCMP detachment, told the Advocate recently that police members are seeing far too many Hwy 11 crashes between Hwy 20 and Hwy 781, caused in part by people driving faster than the speed limit of 80 km/h.
“Lights would be a big problem solver there. . . . At 80 km/h, if someone makes a mistake there, you’re dealing with a serious collision.”
As police point out, twinning the westbound lanes for only half of the distance between the two intersections has created a bottleneck in which westbound drivers race from the lights to get into the through lane.
When right-in, right-out begins soon, it will make the highway even more confusing, and we will probably still see a lot of rule-breaking left-hand turns, especially in the early days of the change and next summer when the thousands of tourists return to Sylvan.
Now when traffic stops at the Hwy 20 lights (which are only there because Sylvan lobbied for them out of safety concerns), drivers are slowed for a moment but many begin to quickly pick up speed as they head west to the promised land with their ATVS and RVs.
The price of a set of lights at Hwys 11-781 is maybe $1 million. Yet out of nowhere the department can come up with $4.5 million to build a road that would normally be on the town’s tab.
For years, Sylvan Lake residents have talked about the Hwy 11-Hwy 781 intersection being unsafe — long before the recent deaths.
Traffic lights will make that stretch of highway safer.
It’s just common sense.