No clear solution for Niska Road and Bailey Bridge improvements

Item date: 
November 28, 2014
Item context: 

Martin Collier is quoted in this article regarding the Niska Road/Bailey Bridge Class C Environmental Assessment (EA) in southwestern Guelph/northern Puslinch -- where engineers are proposing widening as an "improvement".  Martin actually told the journalist that pilot projects with stop signs and, later on, a toll could work to slow and divert traffic from this last bit of green on the perimeter of Guelph.

While stop signs at either end of the 1-lane bridge is the easiest and most cost-effective solution, this project offers a phenomenal opportunity to install a bridge toll.  Rather than building a new 2-lane bridge at a cost of $2 million or more, a dynamic toll could deal with the myriad issues currently being investigated in the EA. They include:

  • Increasing traffic – Currently, average daily weekday volume across bridge is: westbound – 2,315; eastbound – 2,431.  About 75% is non-local since Niska Road (in combination with Whitelaw Road to west and Pioneer/Ptarmigan/Downey roads to east) allow drivers a quick shortcut from/to Highway 124 and the Hanlon Expressway.  Trucks with a maximum weight of 5 tonnes are allowed to cross the bridge but, according to residents, infractions regularly take place.  They are also concerned about their property values due to increasing traffic (especially those residents living on already busy Downey Road which becomes another rural route to Cambridge).
  • Development pressures – The southwest of Guelph is experiencing pressure from industrial, commercial and residential developers.  This development and a new Costco just north of 124 will attract more traffic.  Finally, the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) is considering the sale of some of its land to take care of budget shortfalls.
  • Safety – Perceived safety issues, mainly due to speed and egress from private homes – 6 crashes caused personal injury since 2008.  No deaths. Some property damage.
  • Aging heritage bridge (built in 1974 as temporary structure) – Repair cost projected to be $1.2 million.  New 2-lane bridge would cost much more.
  • Recreation – Well used hiking trail running by Speed River.
  • Environmentally sensitive area – Old growth forest, river, endangered species
  • Archeology – Preliminary report says there could be First Nations and 19th century European artifacts in area.

Instead of replacing the existing bridge with a new 2-lane span, we think a dynamically priced toll on the existing bridge would stabilize traffic demand by partially diverting passenger car traffic and (if toll high enough) almost completely diverting truck traffic. It would also solve safety and environmental impacts (including visual/noise pollution) and alleviate property value concerns.  New toll revenue could be used for:

  • ­ repairing heritage bridge and reconstruct easterly section of Niska Road (slated to be done by 2020);
  • ­ bike lanes on entrances to bridge
  • ­ dismantling bridge entirely (which is what some residents and at least one Guelph councillor are requesting)
  • ­ enhancing trail/river system and help purchase GRCA lands
  • ­ conducting full archeological assessment
  • ­ providing funds for other neighbourhood transport requirements (e.g. complete streets, transit shelters, etc).

By JOANNE SHUTTLEWORTH

GUELPH — Troubled waters run under the Bailey Bridge and have spilled into the community that lives along and around Niska Road.

The city held a public information centre Thursday night to apprise the community of its plans to refurbish Niska Road and possibly replace the bridge, and if the feedback is any indication, there's no consensus on how the improvements should proceed...

The city is undertaking a Class Environmental Assessment of Niska Road from Downey Road to the Bailey Bridge. It is also considering how to treat the bridge as it is reaching the end of its lifespan.

With input from a community working group, engineers and city staff, the preliminary preferred scenario suggests reconstructing Niska Road and replacing the existing Bailey Bridge with a two-lane bridge.

Laura Murr, who sits on the community working group, said the group did not reach consensus on the preliminary recommendation.

"Originally, the bridge was to be closed, and Niska was never intended to be a traffic corridor. Now it is and it's dangerous," Murr said.

Martin Collier, a transportation expert, said the simplest solution is to put a stop sign on both sides of the bridge to regulate traffic or to make the bridge a toll bridge.

"Then you'd see how people use the road," he said, "and the revenue could be used to maintain the streets. I don't think you should spend $2 million here when there are so many other demands on infrastructure."

Information about the city's plans, traffic studies and environmental reports can be viewed at http://guelph.ca/living/construction-projects/niska-road-improvements. There's also a place on the website for residents to comment.

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