Traffic along Highway 27 was blocked temporarily due to a single vehicle accident on Thursday

Traffic along Highway 27 was blocked temporarily due to a single vehicle accident on Thursday

MoT under pressure – Damage to North Road may cost in excess of $1 million

The roads in this area need attention.

This is the message being put forward to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure about the roads in the Fort St. James area.

The roads in this area need attention.

This is the message being put forward to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure about the roads in the Fort St. James area.

Mayor Harwood has written an open letter to Minister Blair Lekstrom, minister of transportation and infrastructure to this effect, and local mayor and council and Tom Greenaway from the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako had meetings with the minister at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities conference last week.

Mayor Harwood said the information she and council presented to Minister Lekstrom helped to reinforce their concerns and the importance of addressing problems along the corridor.

The district would like to see significant upgrades to the North Road, including pullouts where the gravel ends and the pavement begins. Mayor Harwood called the North Road a “disaster whose time had come.”

Harwood and council had also previously met with Ron Marshal, regional director of the ministry for Fort George District to bring forward their concerns regarding traffic through the community, heavy traffic on Highway 27, and the condition of the North Road.

Marshal had since sent a detailed letter in response to the meeting and the concerns brought forward by Mayor Harwood and council.

The district had asked for traffic counts and upgrades to be done to the North Road/Germansen Landing Road and Highway 27, and on March 9, 2011, a traffic count was done for Highway 27.

The count over 24 hours came up with 1,310 vehicles over that period, but the ministry then said they would review this day count “in context of the annual average and would be more reflective of the 900 annual average daily traffic.”

However, the ministry did not respond to clarification by press time of why they would use the numbers from 2009, when the forest industry in the area was operating at a much lower level of activity and there was not the mine-related traffic there is now.

But even at the higher single daily count level, the numbers are currently insufficient for the ministry to consider adding another passing lane to Highway 27. According to Marshal, they would need to see numbers closer to those along Highway 16 to warrant additional passing lanes.

The preliminary work has already been done to design a passing lane for southbound traffic along Highway 27 and is ready, but would need the higher numbers to justify the funding required for the project.

After extensive study, looking at: numbers, collision history, grades, etc., the ministry engineers determined “that Highway 27 is performing well given the volume and type of traffic on it,” according to the letter from Marshal.

The letter also outlined some of the findings regarding the North Road/Germansen Landing Road, after council expressed concerns regarding the road’s condition and resource traffic using the road illegally during seasonal load restriction periods.

According to the letter, the costs of the repairs to the time of the letter on September 9, 2011, was “in excess of $500,000 and it is anticipated to be at least double to return the road to the condition it was in prior to this spring’s damage.”

So the ministry is estimating damage caused during spring load restrictions to cost $1 million. 

Marshal said the ministry “made a concerted effort to have the [Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement] staff in the area during the spring restrictions, however, efforts were not able to stop the illegal hauling” in his letter.

While meetings had taken place with industry, and more were scheduled, there was no response yet at press time as to what may have been determined at those meetings and what action, if any, will be taken.

Councillor Brenda Gouglas also did a study of the numbers for the Fort St. James District, and according to the projected 10-year average, the number of logging truck loads per hour on the North Road will triple from what they were between 2002-2010. For those years there were an average of four logging truck loads per hour, while between 2011-2018, there is projected to be an average of 12, with this being over an estimated 250 operating days in a year.

There was also pressure to address traffic concerns through the community, including the “Five corners” intersection.

The letter from Marshal said it will submit a review of the intersection and will provide “other potential configuration options, if warranted” for the site. Once the assessment is completed, Marshal committed to sharing the results with the district.

To address some of the concerns regarding roads in the area, the ministry has so far installed temporary electronic speed reader boards on Highway 27 within Fort St. James. They have also committed to having CVSE in the area randomly to address the industrial traffic issues.

The ministry also had temporary road markings put in at the Sowchea Road turnoff to address area concerns regarding the faded lane markings at the intersection. Next year the lines will be repainted using inlaid thermoplastic, according to Marshal.