Intersecting opinions lit up the council chambers yesterday as residents jammed the busy gallery to talk about traffic.
Technically, Thursday (March 14) evening’s meeting was a Strategic Initiatives Committee meeting to receive feedback on the 2019 draft budget. Many residents were there for one $3-million line item: a traffic light at the intersection of Third and High streets.
The intersection is on the books this year, with costs covered by the developer, because there will be a new commercial development on the west side of High Street this summer. The developer will be connecting Cambridge Street (which runs between Metro and Walmart) to Third Street west of High.
Third Street is currently designated a collector road, which is a roadway that “collects” traffic from local streets to arterial streets such as Hurontario or First Street. Collector roads are intended for “low-to-moderate” traffic capacity.
Residents from the Third Street neighbourhood previously aired their protests during budget meetings.
Abbey Westlake told the committee last week about her five-year-old son being struck by a car on Third Street. Bonnie Cambell said her husband was struck by a car while riding his bike on Third Street.
Jack Marley lives on Third Street and asked council to delay the intersection work for one year to allow time for a new Official Plan process and an opportunity to look at redesignating Third Street as not a collector road.
Andrew Hill was at the meeting last night and told council he didn’t know about past meetings relating to the High Street project as he didn’t live here at the time.
“The approvals that happened … I had no knowledge of it until a few days ago and that’s my concern,” said Hill. “I think there should be more traffic engineering analysis to determine the impact of these improvements that are being proposed on our neighbourhood.”
Director of Planning Nancy Farrer and Director of Engineering and Public Works Brian MacDonald delivered a history of the High Street project, which includes the intersection at High and Third.
A town map from the 1880s shows Third Street as a collector road running from the west to the east end of town across Hurontario to become Ontario Street.
The beginning stages of the High Street project date back to 2006 to Home Depot, whose site plan agreement included a requirement for them to help pay to remove the existing light at the Home Depot parking lot exit and High Street and move it to Third and High Street.
The entire High Street project included an environmental assessment and, according to the town website “several public meetings.” The project involved widening High Street at Poplar Sideroad, adding lanes along High Street, adding a roundabout at Poplar Sideroad, and installing traffic signals at High and Sixth and at Third Street.
There was a public meeting in October 2007, which included information about extending Cambridge Street to Third Street and adding a signal at the intersection at High Street.
There was another public meeting on July 20, 2015, for the development proposal, which included the light at High and Third.
According to town staff, there were no comments at the meeting regarding the Third and High Street intersection.
Collingwood resident Colin Wills said he was at the public meetings and recalled: “nobody got up to say a word at that time.”
“I think if people are here because they didn’t realize that was part of the official plan, they shouldn’t be looking to council, they should be looking to their real estate agents … A lot of people have come here after the fact and they’re trying to change things after the fact," said Wills.
The intersection changes are still dependent on the timeline for the new commercial develpoment in the area.
"This work will be part of a develpoment agreement that will come before council sometime in the future for final approval," said MacDonald. "The design and road network are in accordance with the town's official plan and approved draft plan of subdivision ... it is our understanding that they plan on proceeding in 2019."
Coun. Yvonne Hamlin put forward a motion to defer the intersection until the 2020 budget, suggesting it would give council more time to think about “what does all this mean?”
“I certainly feel one of our jobs, or certainly my job, is to protect our neighbourhoods,” she said. “I feel we have not really had a process with our community about how we want to see our neighbourhoods dealt with as far as traffic is concerned.”
She raised the matter of residential developments on Mountain Road and Tenth Line and a proposal to extend Third Street to Tenth Line to divert one-third of the traffic from that area to Third Street.
“The lights in and of themselves aren’t the issue,” she said. “What do the lights represent? It’s a connection of traffic, not just from the community, but from subdivisions and Mountain Road … No one has ever had the discussion about Mountain Road.”
Hamlin said after last night’s meeting she didn’t think there would be an opportunity to have that discussion outside the context of the next Official Plan Review, which is happening later this year.
According to MacDonald, a transportation study done in 2012 suggested it was prudent to protect a corridor of land between Third Street west of High Street and Tenth Line for a future possibility, but no proposals have been made to extend the street.
“This crossing would be subject to an Official Plan amendment and public meetings,” said MacDonald.
“We’re just protecting the corridor at this time. There are a lot of factors that come into play whether this is necessary or not, whether we get a bypass, the capacity of First and High. The plan is in place, but the connection is not being proposed anytime in the near future.”
MacDonald explained the town's transportation policies are part of the town's official plan (OP) and the 2012 transportation study.
"The OP and associated transportation policies have been around for a very long time," said MacDonald. "These policies have established the heirarchy of our road network including designating a series of collector and arterial roads throughout town."
Only Coun. Hamlin and Coun. Tina Comi were in favour of shelving the budget line item for the High and Third Street intersection. Councillors Bob Madigan, Steve Berman, Deb Doherty, and Mariane McLeod, along with Mayor Brian Saunderson and Deputy Mayor Keith Hull, voted against the deferral.
So, for now, the line item remains in the budget.
McLeod, Hull, and Saunderson all commented on council’s duty to follow process at the risk of losing a legal challenge from the developers who already have agreements in place.
“They’re going to fight it. The way I understand it, they’re going to win and we’re going to pay for it. Again,” said McLeod. “I believe there is a way to mitigate everyone’s concerns. I don’t know exactly what it is. I can assure you we’re going to do our best to find it. But I don’t want to waste your tax dollars giving it to lawyers.”
Doherty, Hull, and Saunderson brought up the upcoming Official Plan review as a way to consider traffic calming mechanisms and other traffic dynamics.
"You may not always like the decisions made around this table, but that does not mean this is not a democracy," said Saunderson. "When a new council takes office, it doesn't start with a blank slate."
The next Strategic Initiatives Committee meeting on the 2019 draft budget takes place Monday, March 18 at 2 p.m. in the town hall council chambers.
You can view the staff presentation on the history of the Third and High Street intersections here.
For the full 2019 draft budget documents, click here.