While most of his announcements – especially those involving big-ticket items like subway construction – have been held in the GTA, the province’s transportation minister was in the London area for the second time in as many weeks with details of new undertakings by the Doug Ford government.
Holding court just west of the city on Highway 402, Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek announced Thursday (May 9) the introduction of pilot projects that will increase the speed limit to 110 km/h on three stretches of provincial highways, including the 402 between London and Sarnia.
It’s a two-year undertaking by the province to improve traffic flow and safety on 400-series highways and the QEW.
Yurek, who was in London on April 25 to unveil measures to improve school bus safety, indicated Highway 402 was selected for one of the pilot projects because that stretch of roadway “doesn’t need much with regard to upgrades and the interchanges are spaced, on average, three kilometres apart so that bodes well for a safe environment.”
That, in spite of the notoriously treacherous winter driving conditions that have seen several portions of the highway closed for hours and even several days due to drifting snow and whiteouts.
“We’ll be looking at that,” advised Yurek several hours after the announcement. “Even at the posted limit of 100, people adjust their driving to the winter conditions and we’re going to look at some additional safety measures on that road, which are long overdue.”
Including low-tech strategies such as the installation of snow fencing.
Remember that effective solution from decades ago?
“There have been quite a bit of asks for snow fences,” noted Yurek. “We’re going to take a look at that. I know we’re doing it for ‘Carnage Alley’ (the stretch of Highway 401 from Tilbury to London) next winter to ensure it is a little safer until we get that construction done.
“And we’ll look at it in the pilot area as well.”
According to a media release from the province, “Ontario’s highways are among the safest in North America, where we’ve ranked the lowest or second lowest in fatality rates among all jurisdictions for 18 consecutive years.”
Another aim of the pilot projects is to hold public consultations aimed at aligning speed limits with those in other provinces.
The maximum posted speed is 110 km/h in Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan while in B.C. the limit is 120 km/h.
The province had a similar limit – 70 miles per hour (113 km/h) – back in the 1970s which was lowered in the following decade due to the oil crisis when the supply of gasoline was in a tightened market.
Yurek doesn’t feel the new limit will negatively impact the efficient use of carbon-based resources.
“Not in this day and age with electric vehicles on the road and the great fuel economy we have in cars today.”
The new maximum limit will not apply to trucks, stressed Yurek, who referenced an undertaking with the province of Quebec.
“They’re governed at 105 and it’s a project with Quebec, so if we wanted to touch that we’d have to have conversations with Quebec to keep that joint project.”
He doesn’t feel trucks moving at a slower speed than the main flow of traffic will be a concern.
“Hopefully trucks are going to stay in the right-hand lane. We’re upping the fine for slow drivers in the left-hand lane and hopefully, that will be a deterrent to make sure they stay over.
“It might be a benefit to the trucks on the road that cars aren’t going to be intertwined with them going 100 kilometres an hour.”
So, will the new maximum speed entice some motorists to continue travelling 20 kilometres per hour – or more – above the posted limit?
“People are driving at the speed they are comfortable at, 120 or 125 (kilometres per hour) and I don’t think those people are going to go much faster with the speed limit going up to 110,” suggested Yurek.
“We’re going to amend the regulations on stunt driving and keep it at 150 (kilometres per hour). So even in the pilot project, it’s still 150.”
The three pilot projects involve highways already designed for even higher speeds, according to Yurek.
“I am told they are engineered for 120 kilometres an hour safely. I still think there are certain sections of the highway where that would be something you would have to double check before going that high.
“That’s why we went to 110, it matches what is in other provinces and many of the states.”
“We’re also going to be reviewing the fines for speed limit infractions to make sure they are a deterrent. And, we’ll obviously work with law enforcement to see if it reduces reckless driving.”
If that is the case, could the limit be raised again to match the maximum posted speed in British Columbia?
“I think they have to take a look at that. They’re reviewing it because of the future of autonomous vehicles coming on to the market. That has to be taken into consideration in the design. Building for higher speeds is something we need to look into in the planning process.”
Any consideration for upping the speed limit elsewhere in the province will be a determination made following the two-year pilot projects, said Yurek.
“We’ve got baseline numbers for the amount of traffic on the highway and also the average speed. So we’ll do a comparison on that and, of course, we’ll take into account the safety of the roadway during the pilot project.
“We’re also going to be reviewing the fines for speed limit infractions to make sure they are a deterrent. And, we’ll obviously work with law enforcement to see if it reduces reckless driving.
“We’ll take a look at the results and then see if there is a plan to expand it to other areas along the 400-series highways.”
Following a visit by approximately 40 small planes to St. Thomas Municipal Airport in May of 2015, superintendent Dale Arndt remarked, “It was an opportunity to tie the airport into the community and show the tourism aspect of our airport within the community.”
The stop in St. Thomas was part of the 2015 Interprovincial Air Tour.
The airport – once hailed as an economic jewel, not only for St. Thomas but neighbouring municipalities – is suffering somewhat these days from deferred maintenance.
Including the closing of one runway due to much-needed reconstruction.
So it is encouraging to note council will be asked at Monday’s meeting to endorse a motion directing city administration to submit a funding application under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program for the reconstruction of Runway 15-33 – to include increasing the length – and the repaving of a taxiway and apron.
In a report to council, city clerk Maria Konefal notes “The runway reconstruction project has been included in capital budget submissions since 2016 and the repaving of Taxiway Alpha and Apron 2 since 2018.”
Due to safety concerns, the runway in question has been closed for two years.
Cost of the project is pegged at $4.1 million.
Under the cost-sharing breakdown, the city would be responsible for 16.67% of this cost.
Successful applicants will be notified in late summer or early fall and should the city be one of those funding recipients, the project will be included in the 2020 capital budget.
In the spring of 2017, the city added Pinafore Park, Lake Margaret and Waterworks Park to their goose management program whereby egg oiling is employed as a method of reducing the expanding population.
The program is not without controversy and at Monday’s meeting, Adrienne Jefferson, the city’s supervisor of parks and forestry, will update council on the status of the egg oiling, which replaced a strategy known as hazing – or disturbing the birds – in 2016.
The expansion of oiling into the parks was a response to public pressure related to the aggressiveness of Canada geese.
In her report, Jefferson writes, “Coating eggs with non-toxic oil blocks air exchange through the pores in the egg and prevents the embryo from developing. The birds continued to incubate the eggs until it is too late to re-nest which contributed to a reduced number of geese returning the following year, also reducing noise, droppings and damage to the parks.”
She adds, “In 2018 season 280 eggs were oiled. As of April 29 (of this year), approximately 300 eggs have already been oiled in all 3 locations.”
Cost of the program this year is $7,700.
In a conversation in September of 2017 with Lois Jackson – then chair of the city’s animal welfare committee – she suggested other methods of population control in lieu of oiling.
In an email to Ross Tucker, director of parks, recreation and property management, she noted “oiling eggs takes some coordination to time oiling at just the right time. We are not arguing that oiling eggs is wrong. But we would like to see the city investigate natural and humane strategies as well.”
As an alternative, Jackson suggested “If the city wants to look at the big picture, then making the landscape inhospitable to the birds, habitat modification, is the direction to take – perhaps using the smallest park as a pilot.
“And of course, providing it doesn’t become ‘inhospitable’ for the residents and cost prohibitive.”
If you’re a resident of the Lake Margaret area or a regular visitor to Pinafore or Waterworks parks, we’d be interested in hearing how the grass-devouring, prolific-pooping Canada geese population compares to previous years.
EVERY BIT AS BIG
Continuing on a wildlife theme, this corner advised readers last October the elephant that put St. Thomas on the map, Jumbo, will be taking to the stage this spring.
Playwright Sean Dixon’s production of Jumbo will be running June 12 to August 10 as part of the Blyth Festival 2019 season.
And, to whet the appetite of Jumbo aficionados prior to the opening, the Elgin County Heritage Centre – adjacent to the Elgin County Administration Building – is hosting a panel on the festival’s production at 2 p.m. Thursday (May 16).
It’s an opportunity to meet Dixon, along with director Gil Garrett and set and costume designer Eric Bunnell – the very same of People column fame – and Gemma James Smith, who constructed the life-sized Jumbo puppet.
Bunnell assures the production will be “every bit as big as its subject.”
According to Georgia Sifton at the heritage centre, “This panel discussion will give people the inside scoop about how the play was put together; what the playwright’s intent was when he wrote it and how his vision is carried forward by the creative team.”
If you’re looking for Steve Peters on Thursday afternoon, this is likely where you will find him.
For more info, call the centre at 519-631-1460 ext. 193, or visit elgincounty.ca.
THE READER’S WRITE
In response to our item last week on school bus safety and equipping the buses with stop-arm cameras, Ken G Tweeted the following observation.
“I think seatbelts and winter tires on school buses should be a much bigger priority.”
A valid point Ken, and we put that to Minister of Transporation Jeff Yurek who advised the matter of seatbelts would involve both the provinces and the federal government.
“I was at the federal, territorial, provincial meetings in Montreal in January and (federal transport minister Marc) minister Garneau and the provinces struck a committee to work out how we would implement school bus seat belts,” noted Yurek.
“The whole design (of school buses) is for the safety of kids. If they put in seat belts, the design of the seats is going to have to change. And also how the seat belts are anchored.
Yurek continued, “It’s a big cost as well and I think the buses are pretty safe to start with.
“We are always looking for improvements and that, at least, is being worked on in combination with the federal and provincial governments.”
Responding to the item earlier this week on residential growth in St. Thomas, Lindsay Geerts posted the following on Facebook.
“What about changing certain area zones to allow duplexing conversions? As in making most neighbourhoods zoned R2?”
FOR THE CALENDAR
This morning (May 11) from 10 until noon, drop into the Columbus Club of St. Thomas at 265 Wellington Street to enjoy a coffee with the city’s cops. An informal opportunity to learn more about the city’s police service including the newly launched COP’s program.
Thanks to Katherine Englander for the heads-up on the workshop coming up Wednesday (May 15) entitled Recognizing and Managing Mental Health in the Workplace. This workshop was created to help employers and leaders identify and manage mental health issues within the workplace. Englander notes those attending the workshop “will develop skills to help you reduce absenteeism, increase productivity, identify mental illness issues, reduce complaints from other employees, reduce turnover due to mental health issues, manage mental health issues in the workplace, and develop a workplace culture that makes your company more resilient.” The workshop runs from 8 to 10:30 a.m. at the Elgin Business Resource Centre, 300 South Edgeware Road. For tickets visit https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/recognizing-and-managing-mental-health-in-the-workplace-workshop-saint-thomas-tickets-59727441385
Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope
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