In the midst of budget deliberations, Castlegar city council was faced with making a decision on what to do with a gravel road that connects the Emerald Green and Grandview neighbourhoods. Their decision was the opposite of what residents in the neighbourhood were hoping for.
People in the Grandview neighbourhood have been lobbying for improved maintenance of the north end of 16th Avenue (sometimes called Sahlstrom Road) for quite some time. In recent months they have been more organized and deliberate with their requests, and approached city council with their frustrations.
City council did not make their decision easily, with debate at their Dec. 9, 2021, budget meeting lasting more than an hour.
But in the end, council decided to reinstall a gate and close the road rather than spend money to improve it. The decision was in alignment with city staff’s recommendation. Emergency services will have keys to the gate and the route will continue to be available for emergencies.
“Because it was a non-engineered road, and as increased traffic happened, it resulted in failures starting to occur on that road,” said Chris Hallam, the city’s director of municipal services.
“With failures came increased complaints, with increased complaints came increased maintenance, with increased maintenance came increased cost to the city, and those are costs that were never budgeted or expected.”
City staff presented seven options for council to consider:
• Status quo, grading twice a year at $2,500 per year
• Replacing the gate and grading twice per year at $6,500 with $4,000 being for a gate replacement, and $2,500 yearly for grading
• Grading frequently, 20 times per year at $20,000 a year
• Adding 100 mm of gravel, grading five times per year at $100,000
• Rebuilding basic road structure and ditching, grading five times per year at $370,000
• Rebuilding road structure, ditching, aggregate seal coat at $431,000
• Rebuilding road structure, ditching, high fines surfacing, grading twice per year at $444,000
To put the costs in perspective, approximately $85,000 in new city spending equates to a one per cent increase to the tax rate for all of the city. So, $400,000 for rebuilding the road structures would mean a 4.7 per cent increase.
To completely rebuild and pave the road would cost more than $1 million.
Hallum said staff’s recommendation to gate the road was mainly due to the increased volume of traffic that an improved road would bring, causing the need for further improvements at 37th Street. Those upgrades would mean additional costs that would all be the responsibility of the city.
The other reason Hallum gave is that a third phase of the Emerald Green subdivision is expected in the coming years. This would mean that any improvements made now to 16th Avenue would be torn up to allow for the installation of underground utilities and other construction needs. He described any improvements done as “throw away costs.”
The costs for a traffic study and any required improvements made to the road as part of the Emerald Green project would be born by the developer, not taxpayers.
Staff was also concerned that increased traffic at 37th Street would overwhelm the intersection.
Mayor Kirk Duff shared those concerns. He said the original traffic study done already said the intersection wasn’t sufficient and that was when there were fewer houses in the area than there are now.
“What seems like a simple solution will actually in the long term cost us a lot more money,” said Duff.
He says the city would eventually have to pay for improving the 37th Street intersection and installing a traffic light, and may be responsible for creating a situation where the intersection may become unsafe.
The history of the 370-metre gravel section of 16th Avenue is full of twists and turns but the city says it basically boils down to the fact that the road was never intended to be used as an everyday access road to the neighbourhood. It was meant to be used as a secondary access point in the case of emergencies and for access to homes within the Regional District of Central Kootenay outside of the city’s borders.
Hallum explained access through that section of 16th Avenue was explored as part of the initial traffic studies related to creating the Grandview Heights subdivision. That would mean vehicles would turn off of Columbia Avenue at 37th Street and proceed up the hill to the north end of 16th Avenue to reach the new neighbourhood.
But the 2007 proposal was not approved by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI).
Castlegar CAO Chris Barlow added that at the time MoTI said the 37th Street intersection was already reaching its capacity. They also declined permission to add a traffic light.
So the developer created the access point off of Highway 22 through Trowelex Road and Minto Road and the south end of 16th Avenue. Improvements were made to those points to accommodate the new traffic.
The gravel section of 16th Avenue was gated off to keep it from becoming used as a traffic route. Keys to the gate were given to emergency services, the developers and other affected parties.
Hallam says that eventually the gate began to get left open and at some point was actually removed. The road continued to get used more and more as time went on.
Barlow added: “It’s not actually a question of maintenance anymore … That intersection was failing at that time (in 2007), would fail now if we graded this road.
“We have to be honest, the community is asking for an improved level of service because they want to use it. People are going to use it … So then we will fail the intersection at 37th Street and we will be on the hook for the capital upgrades.”
Councillor Bergen Price lobbied hard for improving the road, while councillor Maria McFaddin preferred the option that increased the grading to the road.
But the majority of councillors voted to go back to the original intentions of the road and reinstall the gate.
The decision will not be finalized until the 2022 budget is adopted at the Jan. 24 council meeting.
At the following day’s budget meeting on Dec. 10, Amy Byers spoke during question period about her frustrations with the decision.
“Myself and most residents of Grandview are absolutely appalled by the city staff’s recommendation to gate our road. What’s more disturbing is that council is entertaining this recommendation.
“We respectfully raised an issue that impacts city residents in our area on a daily basis. We asked and we offered a reasonable resolution … Not only did you completely turn your back on us, you chose the only option that makes our situation worse.”
The mayor said it was a really difficult decision to a long and complicated problem.
“I know it definitely is not what yourself and others were asking for, but council made the decision that we think is the right thing to do,” said Duff. “We chose to do what we did in the best interest of the whole area and in keeping with the original intent of the roadway.”