BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Ministry of Transportation off course

Columnist Richard Rolke provides his thoughts on the latest Stickle Road proposal

One of the Ministry of Transportation staff that appeared before Vernon city council Monday is based in Kamloops. To get here, he would have passed through several traffic signals on the Trans-Canada Highway.

Another ministry official came up from Kelowna and virtually everyone is familiar with the barrage of lights lining Highway 97 in Kelowna and Lake Country.

But despite that personal experience, they tried to convince Vernon’s politicians that a traffic signal at Highway 97 and Stickle Road is not only impractical, but dangerous.

“It will result in delays and traffic queues,” said Rampaul Dulay, the ministry’s project director, of a light.

“It has the potential to increase collision rates at the intersection with a high frequency of rear-end collisions anticipated.”

Dulay also went on to say that, “Driver expectations will not be met because motorists don’t expect signals on high-speed highways.”

Based on that argument, Coun. Scott Anderson suggested, “we should take out all traffic signals.”

And it’s difficult to believe the ministry is taking that stance when you consider the speed limits that range from 50 to 90 kilometres-an-hour in Lake Country and Kelowna. Motorists are ramping the speed up pretty good when they hit a signal at the Kelowna airport and very few accidents are publicly reported there.

The situation isn’t much different in Kamloops and particularly in the Valleyview area and heading east through industrial zones.

“I don’t understand why we can’t have a light,” said Mayor Akbal Mund, who spends a lot of time behind the wheel.

Despite the ministry’s description of Stickle Road being on a high-speed highway, it’s not in the middle of the boondocks.

It is just a short distance from a heavily built-up commercial core, and there are long-standing businesses and residences at the intersection. More commercial development will occur there once sewer lines are extended.

Coun. Juliette Cunningham is not impressed with the ministry’s opposition to a light.

“There’s a bias and the negatives have been emphasized,” she said.

And that is particularly the most surprising factor given that the city, the regional district, businesses and residents have categorically insisted what their preferred option is for the intersection.

In fact, Dulay even acknowledged that during an April 30 open house, the ministry heard the need to, “install a traffic signal to improve safety.”

But instead of proceeding with grassroots feedback, the ministry went in a completely different direction and is now proposing a model that would allow for left-hand turns from the east side of the highway but eliminate cross traffic and left-hand turns on the west side.

“This was one of the proposals considered before,” said Bob Fleming, regional district director.

That means little effort went into viable options once the plan for prohibiting left-hand turns was scrapped, and the ministry simply dusted off an old design.

Given that the new proposal has been revealed and opposition will have time to wage a fight, the ministry’s July 30 open house could make the raucous April 30 session look like a tea party.

My prediction is that so much pressure will build up that MLA Eric Foster will urge the ministry to back off this plan just as occurred  after the last open house.

What that will mean is despite the ministry wasting significant time and resources, a traffic signal will ultimately be installed.