Morinville open house shows possible shape of 100 Avenue


Consultant Project Manager Vickie Dodge looks at one of the renderings of what downtown Morinville could look like in years to come. – Stephen Dafoe Photo

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – About 35 residents attended Wednesday night’s joint open house on the Coeur de Morinville Area Structure Plan (ASP) and Highway 642 Functional Planning Study. The three-hour event covered both projects in significant detail. The former is a project that would set guidelines for development in Morinville’s historic downtown core; the latter addresses the specific challenges of dealing with a main street that is also a provincial highway.

Both the Coeur de Morinville ASP and Highway 642 Functional Planning Study are connected projects and play a significant role in the future development of Morinville’s downtown area allowing the development needed to generate more business taxes, reducing the tax burden on residential ratepayers.

Plan part of desire to ease development

The dual nature of 100 Avenue has long presented a challenge to those looking to develop property on Main Street. Because there has been no plan in place to identify the needs of development on 100 Avenue, the province, who has planning authority for the road, defaults to the same cookie-cutter template they would use for the highway outside of the community. As such, development up to the sidewalk is frowned on, the province preferring large parking lots off the road with buildings set well back from the highway.

“When the province responds to those development applications, it doesn’t have a specific point of reference,” said Greg Hofmann, Morinville’s Director of Planning and Development. “It doesn’t have a plan to refer to like a functional plan. What it has is a very general or generic frame of reference.” That frame of reference treats Morinville’s downtown as if it were an open stretch of highway across the prairie. “It’s a completely different highway and serves a different function once you leave East Boundary Road. It’s a rural road and everyone knows it,” Hofmann said of Highway 642. “It needs to be a different road inside the Town of Morinville.”

Under the current system, whenever someone wants to develop on 100 Avenue, they must deal with both the municipality and the province. The passing and approval of the functional plan in connection with the area structure plan could change that situation in that the requirement for provincial approval on each and every development could be removed.

“The Minister of Transportation can sign that [plan] off, and it may not sound like much, but it can mean a great deal to people who are interested in properties and re-developing existing properties,” Hofmann said. “That can make a heck of a difference.”

Roundabouts one possibility

Although participants had questions on the project ranging from how much had been spent on it to date and what could be done to lower speed limits throughout town, considerable concern was expressed over the idea of roundabouts throughout the downtown to control the flow of traffic.

Al-Terra Engineering, the engineers working with Morinville’s Planning and Development Department on the functional study, offered two renderings of what a future downtown intersection could look like. The first was a conventional series of intersections with stoplights at each; the other would consist of four roundabouts on 100 Avenue in the downtown area: one at 107 Street, 104 Street, 102 Street and 100 Street. Others would be dotted along 100 Avenue between the downtown and East Boundary Road.

Al-Terra consultant Corry Broks said the inclusion of the roundabouts as an option in no way indicates that is the route that would be taken. However, the consultant did set out some of the benefits of a roundabout system, including increased traffic and pedestrian safety, more green space, and assurance of parking on both sides of the road when traffic expands with the growth of the community. It is believed a conventional lighted intersection would ultimately eliminate parking on one side of the road because of the need for proper turning lanes.

Roundabouts are not the same as traffic circles in that they require less space, can be of single lane construction, and force drivers to slow down as they travel through them.

More public input to come

Both the ASP and functional planning study are anticipated to hit the draft stage by November. Another public open house is planned for that time.

Both documents are available through the Town of Morinville website at www.morinville.ca

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12 Comments

  1. After attending the presentation last night I do believe the “modern roundabout” is a great option for most of 100ave and that the over all development plan looks great. My only concern is that replacing the 100 ave intersection lights with a roundabout may make a brutal situation during rush hour. When I asked an Al-Terra representative directly about the impact of this I was told that most of the time the roundabout would be clear leaving traffic to free flow however for our small rush hour it may be a bit of a mess functioning more like a 4 way stop. He pointed out that the Sylvan Lake roundabout is responsible for clearing up a 5 mile back log of traffic caused by a conventional intersection that would happen as people RVing came on Friday and left on Sunday.

    I was surprised that even though they commisioned “studies of traffic flow” the representative wasn’t sure how long our rush hour was and that he wasn’t sure if the roundabout would work efficiently during rush hour under present conditions. Because this is a plan for the next 35-70 years and there is question as to the efficiency of a 100ave-100st roundabout in the present I can see this intersection being very problematic as the population grows to the 31,000 predicted in 70 years.

    After discussing the 100ave-100st roundabout option with the Al-Terra representative I was left with the feeling that the efficiency of this intersection as a roundabout was a gamble. He also seemed to think that a possible rush hour mess was a fair trade off for the rest of the time being clear. In my opinion an intersection that is a mess part of the time develops a reputation. After all no one remembers the Cardiff corner for the 22 hours a day that it functions relatively easily. They do remember white knuckling it across the highway under massive pressure from impatient motorists behind them.

    I am disappointed that after $37,500 of reports and 40 years of studying roundabouts and traffic circles there is not an option that this expert can put on the table that he knows will work. Maybe I am expecting too much.

  2. I agree with Paul. While I didn’t attend the meeting, I am familiar with roundabouts in other provinces (New Brunswick for one). Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

    To be effective, roundabouts need and take-up a lot of room to carry a volume of traffic. One example is the roundabout on St Albert Trail/Grout Rd and 118th Ave. As there is not very much room, the traffic can sometimes get pretty tangled up and you are taking your life into your hands by trying to get to the inside lane to enter the roundabout, then move to the right to go straight through on to 118th Ave. I question whether or not we would have the room for a proper roundabout at 100th Ave and 100th St.

    Finally, we are seeing more and more tractor-trailers going through town. How will they fare on a tight roundabout? If that makes them detour around town, I’m all for it. But if the roundabout doesn’t have the room, we may well have more to worry about than two hours of rush hour.

    My two cents.

    Brent

  3. Paul, you’re disappointed with what was put on the table? I still can’t get over what I have read. We, the taxpayers paid someone to come up with a solution for this “big problem” in the middle of a town with a population of 7000? At first I thought this was a joke! Is Vickie Dodge the one who breaks the news to all four of the tenants of this intersection that their businesses will be demolished to make room for this monstrosity? Her picture depicts what town centers resembled 50 years ago.
    Here is a suggestion. Pay people more of our tax dollars and do further “studies” on the Cardiff corner intersection. We can’t find a way to make that fluid and safe. Never mind wasting people’s time on what this town could look like in the next 35 to 70 years!
    Traffic lights were instituted many years ago to handle traffic volumes in a safe manner, and they are still very effective.

  4. Good comments one and all. Another thought to add to this mixture is that for every study the town spend $1.00 on (e.g. consultants, maps, pretty pictures, etc) where a shovel does NOT hit the ground that will produce a specific product or service that is being studied, then that is $1.00 that is sent down the highway and most likely spent in other communities. Most studies are budgeted at $50,000 to $150,000 and if work is not commenced within a 2 year window then that study becomes outdated and another $50,000 or whatever has to be spent to update the information. Instead of fancy roundabouts, etc. it could be suggested to wait until the Cardiff overpass is finished as then it is anticipated that traffic flow will be reduced significantly on 642 and maybe the roundabouts would not be required. Anyone thought of this possibility?

    The only way this type of spending will END is if MORE people get involved, come out to the open houses and speak out verbally or send written (letters or emails) to the Town Council with copies to the CAO

  5. I deliberated for quite some time before deciding to again become involved in this discussion, however…

    Good comments from all who have spoken thus far, but a couple of salient issues appear to have been overlooked:

    ONE: With well under FIFTY people attending the open house, the level of interest of this community in these two EXPENSIVE projects is obviously virtually ZERO. Both the Town Council AND the Town Administration LOVE this underwhelming show of support because it allows them to p**s our tax dollars down the road.

    TWO: Either they know something the rest of us don’t, or they just don’t give a damn, but our vaunted Chamber of Commerce – that staunchest of suopporters of our business community – was conspicuous by its absence.

    THREE: I would implore our CAO to never, ever allow Mr. Greg Hofmann, Morinville’s Director of Planning and Development, to speak in public before sending him on an effective speakers course. The man obviously loves the sound of his own voice, given his “short” introductory comments, coupled with his propensity to interject when others are attempting to speak. He may be capable of doing a good job, but his ability to articulate issues leaves a lot to be desired. His answer to the question respecting the amount of money we have spent THUS FAR on the “Coeur de Morinville” project – $37,500.00 – cannot POSSIBLY be correct. Rather than admitting he didn’t know, he started ‘tap-dancing’. The same question was repeated THREE times before he grabbed the $37,500.00 number out of his a**!

    C’mon folks, we all know this is a “fait-accompli” and, for all the protestations to the contrary, we are saddled with a Council and Administration who really don’t give a damn how much of our money they spend as long as THEIR vision of our community is realized!!

  6. Linda and Cliff,

    You are echoing the comments that I made at the budget open house last year. If you can’t put a shovel in the ground before the validity of the report expires (usually 2-5 years), what is the point of spending the money??

    Many people still don’t know what is holding up the Cardiff Over-Pass. I have seen it reported here that the delay is due to not being able to get the land in one of the corners due to multiple owners. I wonder if a weekly/monthly update by whomever is responsible to do this would speed things along?

    Brent

  7. Comment on Jim O”brien’s post

    Jim I Love your enthusiasm and your salty sensibilities. I do however disagree with the “conspiracy theory” type tone that you seem to embrace at every turn.

    The administration for the town has no desire to blatantly waste tax payer dollars that I am aware of. They are people just like you and I with the same cares and concerns. Administration suffers from the same afflictions that other industries suffer from in about the same proportions. I am really sure that there is not a magic wand that gets waved when a person is elected to council or hired for administration that turns them into self-centred, greedy, unfeeling, uncaring people. In fact my experience working along side most of these people as a member of the community on projects is quite the opposite. In general the town administration is doing a good job when compared to other communities in most areas. I appreciate the forward thinking of this plan although I have some concern.

    Attacking Greg Hofmann’s public speaking in such an arrogant and unsubstantiated way makes me think that it is you that likes to hear the sound of your own voice. As a person who speaks in public quite regularly I found Greg polite, informative, open, and the team was staunchly firm in letting everyone be heard even letting off topic questions have full air time. I believe the team should be commended for its patience.

    I believe personally attacking people is not constructive to this process. Helping to find problems in the plan and opportunies for action will be helpful.

    Sincerely
    Paul Smith

  8. Paul, I could agree with your comments regarding the tone Mr. O’Brien’s opinion’s if I knew the man personally, but I don’t. So I can’t assume anything of that nature. But I do understand his frustrations regarding the spending. We expect that our council will follow the common sense of their constituents, for the most part. In regards to the consultant’s version of downtown Morinville, I see no reasoning behind spending this money, and I’m sure most people would agree.
    I wouldn’t spend $10 for someone to hand me a drawing depicting what my house could look like in 50 years. It would be both imprudent and impractical. In regards to the comments about the small crowd(s) who show up at these open houses, some of us have to work for a living. In most cases, it just isn’t an option.
    Most of us know the issue blocking the Cardiff intersection changes, yet it doesn’t alleviate the frustrations shared by many of us.

    • Highway 642 Functional Study in simple terms

      -100 Avenue is a provincial highway
      -It is owned by the province
      -There is no functional plan for this road by the province or municipality.
      -Because there is no plan, province uses a default plan which sucks for Morinville and those who would develop here
      -That default plan says all new buildings need to be set back way off the road by roughly 50 feet (like strip malls on St. Albert Trail)
      -That puts an immediate end to people buying and developing land here.
      -Functional study puts a plan in the province’s hand that lets them say “hey, maybe we can develop property to the sidewalk because Morinville’s downtown isn’t a canola field with a road through it”
      – Province passes plan and potential developers will no longer have to deal with town and province to pop up a business on 100 Avenue. They will no longer be told you need the length of a football field between the highway and your shop’s front door.
      -Plan needs to show how traffic flow on provincial highway will go down.
      – Roundabouts and stop lights are two options – those options need to be extended down many years to show the handling of potential growth because that’s how Alberta Transport rolls.
      – Plan costs money.
      – Money was budgeted for in last year’s budget.
      – Work is being done. Chamber a part, town a part, province a part.
      – Plan gets done
      – Road gets cut some slack
      – Developers get cut some slack
      – Maybe they develop.
      – That means taxes.
      – That means better tax split
      – that means maybe some jobs
      – that means maybe some more development
      – Repeat previous four as necessary.

      These types of plans are not the waste of money some think. They allow the horse to go before the cart to avoid ad hoc development … or in this case …development at all, and if you want to see real money pissed down the pipes, take a look at other municipalities that do a lot of ad hoc development.

      Hey, let’s let them build a condo complex. What? We do not have enough water pressure for fire suppression because we have half inch pipes under the road? Well, let’s let the tax payer cover it.

  9. Mr. Author: You put a lot of words in to describe support for such a plan, to justify spending this money. That’s still your opinion. It doesn’t really matter when money was budgeted for this. If our council budgets $100,000 this year to build an igloo in July, it’s foolish spending. Being pro-active by planning for the future is very prudent. It becomes very moot when the planning is suspect.

  10. Response to Paul Smith’s Comment:

    Moreover, Paul therein lays the rub.

    Can you deny that a next-to-zero public response (be it for an election or an open house) only emboldens those who would force THEIR version of our community on ALL of us? While there may not be any blatant “conspiracy” happening, I (and many others) consider ongoing expenses associated with various and sundry studies and surveys to be very much a waste of our tax dollar. Your own statement: “I was surprised that even though they commissioned “studies of traffic flow” the representative wasn’t sure how long our rush hour was and that he wasn’t sure if the roundabout would work efficiently during rush hour under present conditions.” only underscores the problem.

    I have always stressed that I am NOT a politician. Unfortunately (perhaps), this is often reflected in my style of writing. While many deem my comments to be of a negative or, as you stated, “conspiracy theory” type tone, I will always call things as I see them and do not sugar-coat my statements. Given the number of times questions have been raised at Town Council meetings, Open Houses or in written form to Council members as well as Administration, there have been remarkably few answers come back.

    The bottom line is that I will continue to do all I can to raise public awareness on issues that are costing us precious tax dollars. In this way maybe, just maybe, more than 40 of the 8,504 souls residing in this community will wake up and smell the coffee. And maybe, just maybe, we can get them interested or angry enough to become part of the process!

    I really do appreciate you taking time to address additional comments to my post. However, rather than maintaining a continuous ‘to and fro’ between us, possibly we could meet for coffee, discuss the points you have made and perhaps clarify some that I made. I would also extend the invitation to those other citizens who have thus far commented on this issue. You know how to get hold of me.

    Again, thanks for your interest and criticism.

    Jim

  11. Thought I should throw my two cents into the mix.
    First off, I don’t see how lights added to traffic circles assist anything. I hate the one in Edmonton past Yellowhead on the way to TWOS (the name slips my mind). It’s a nightmare. Part of the problem: Drivers. North American society has essentially eliminated the traditional traffic circle from the infrastructure. If the town wants to see how to properly make one, they should go to Europe. I have been blessed enough to go there many times, and am always amazed at how efficient their traffic circles are. Tour busses, semi trucks…. They have not problem navigating them. Traffic flows smoothly even during rush hour!

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