Plans to ease traffic congestion at the intersection of Willow Street and McClure’s Mills Road could be in jeopardy.
The Town of Truro has applied for both federal and provincial funding to help cost-share in the project but those requests have been denied the past two years. In late August, Mayor Bill Mills sent a letter to Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Geoff MacLellan in an effort to find some answers.
Approximately one month later, a return letter, signed by MacLellan, said that while the province has received requests from towns in the past to cost share projects within the boundaries of incorporated towns, the department does not have any funding or authority to cost share on these projects.
“Capital funding that we received each year for highways is restricted to roads and highways that are owned and operated by the province,” the letter reads. “Capital funding cannot be used for assets that are not owned by the province.”
The fact the province claimed it didn’t own the roads was a surprise to Mills. He said he was disappointed with the response to his August letter.
“When we read the province doesn’t respond to requests or grants for work on roads that don’t belong to them that was the first red flag,” said Mills. “We doubt it was even shared with other departments and that anyone actually investigated whether the roads actually belong to the province or the town. It was a Dear John letter, which from our point of view was disrespectful.”
Mills took the correspondence to Cumberland-North MLA Karen Casey in hopes she could provide some clarification. However, with the threat of a teacher’s strike looming, Casey was unable to issue a comment on the situation.
Requests by Hub Now for an interview with MacLellan were also denied. In an email, Communications Advisor Brian Taylor stated the province was aware of the town’s desire to have a new roundabout cost-shared but as indicated to them, it’s a municipal road and not eligible for any program through TIR.
“Any public roads within the boundaries of an incorporated town are owned by the town,” said the email. “This intersection is well within the town boundaries. Although the roundabout is not eligible for cost-sharing with TIR as it is a town street, they could apply for funding under the Federal Build Canada Fund as a municipal road project through department of Municipal Affairs.”
The town has been looking at solutions to address the traffic backups that occur at the busy intersection for some time. After witnessing the success of the Robie Street roundabout, Mills believes a similar option across town would not only produce positive results, but increase the level of safety for motorists.
It’s estimated a roundabout would cost approximately $2.1 million.
“We think it’s a safety issue,” said Mills. “In addition to that, it’s an issue with regards to the wear and tear it’s putting on our system. It’s pivotal for us. When you look at the roundabout on Robie Street, to the great surprise of everyone, it’s working quite well so we’re thinking the very same thing will happen at Willow and the connector road. With the amount of heavy truck traffic, if we can keep the flow of traffic working, it’s going to be better for everyone accessing that end of town.”
Changes to William Barnhill Drive should also help alleviate some of the pressure. Mills says they’ve just extended the road to Young Street.
“Instead of people going to Glenwood and then spurting up, they can turn across Barnhill now,” he said. “It will help but we need to do more. We envision, based on the information that we’re receiving from the Federation of Independent Business that things are trending positively for us when it comes to businesses setting up here in Truro. We hope that means new businesses in our industrial park and if that happens, it means that road will be handling even more traffic.”
The Truro and Colchester Chamber of Commerce is also weighing in. Andrew Lake, president of the chamber, said members have repeatedly identified the intersection of Willow Street and McClure’s Mills Road as an area needing attention to improve traffic flow.
“There is a critical bottle neck at that intersection that is restricting the flow of traffic,” he said. “It is impeding the flow of traffic to the Truro Industrial Park, and it is inhibiting the flow of traffic to businesses at that intersection.
“Improvements to that intersection would open opportunities for the town and we would support lobbying various levels of government, whether it’s municipal, provincial or federal for those improvements,” Lake added. “Our political leaders should work collaboratively to investigate funding streams that are available to advance this critical piece of infrastructure for the community.”
Adding frustration to the situation is the fact talk of a roundabout in Bible Hill will be constructed. Although no official announcement has been made, a traffic study was conducted over the summer and the department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has inquired about the purchase of properties in the area of Pictou and College roads.
The province owns the roads in Bible Hill. An email to Taylor seeking more information was not returned.
“It was a big surprise to everyone when this was announced,” said Mills. “Secondly, I’m not sure it was ever asked for. Anyone I’ve talked to about this, they don’t recall anyone asking for a roundabout in that area. In Bible Hill, you at least have two options to navigate that intersection. If you go up Pictou Road, you know not to come back down College Road. You come back down Pictou Road because you have the lights.
“Most local motorists know that. But when you look at our situation, we have one set of lights and as a result, traffic gets backed up in three different directions and it’s becoming more and more of a problem.”
At this point, Mills says it will be up to council to determine what happens to the roundabout project.
“We have to leave things the way they are for now,” said Mills, adding the town’s roundabout is pretty much set to go with only a few more details to be worked out with its partners. “The Princess Margaret Rose School has been torn down so depending on how things progress, it is conceivable the town could do this project on our own and if there’s any shortfall, we could pick it up in 2018.”