There’s a lot of buzz about the Phase 2 Columbia Avenue Complete Street Redevelopment Project which began this week . The focus will be re-configuring the road, replacing water mains, extending storm sewers, resurfacing Columbia with new curbs, gutters, sidewalks and bike lanes between 18th and 24th Streets.
Our city has communicated its plans with a Zoom Open House and literature, encouraging citizens to learn about and become involved in this $10.95 million dollar project of which our city will contribute $7.74 million.
However, in all the hype and preparation, one big question isn’t being answered. Is Columbia Avenue the main artery in our city connecting businesses and residential communities from the northern to the southern edges of our city? Or is Columbia Avenue the highway connecting our city to Highway 22 south and Highway 3 east and west? Can it be both a highway and main thoroughfare?
Actually, beginning at 18th Street, the management and maintenance of Columbia Avenue is the responsibility and property of the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure (MOTI). They are collaborating and cost sharing to the tune of 3.2 million toward this major project. So it is the ministry’s decision, not the city’s, how traffic flow and speed is controlled and enforced on this stretch of Columbia Avenue.
The intersection at Columbia and 22nd Street is very busy for multiple reasons. At the open house on Jan. 13, MOTI announced that it plans to extend the speed limit at 50 km/h to 24th Street. However, as vehicle traffic navigates the stop lights at 20th Street and heads toward Trail, many drivers accelerate and often are travelling at 60 km/h or more as they approach the bend on Columbia at 22nd Street. As vehicles enter our city from Trail, many don’t adhere to the speed limit dropping to 50 km/h.
Is Columbia Avenue going to be safer after the Phase 2 project? Traffic enforcement is sporadic because our Castlegar RCMP detachment states that road is monitored by their West Kootenay Traffic Services stationed in Nelson. The five officers assigned to this unit are responsible for traffic enforcement from Nakusp to the American border and Creston to Rock Creek.
If this issue isn’t addressed now, we could witness more accidents and tragedy on Columbia Avenue. As it is, ICBC statistics show that Columbia Avenue is the most accident-reported roadway in Castlegar. Now is the time for our city planners and highway officials to get it right. They need to decide whether Columbia Avenue is a city street or a highway and reconstruct our roads with not only highway safety in mind, but as importantly — bus, long haul truck, fire, ambulance, cycle and pedestrian traffic.