By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – The idea of roundabouts in Morinville’s downtown core drew questions from some of the 50 residents and business owners who came out to hear the latest progress on the Highway 642 Functional Planning Study (FPS) Thursday night. The Town and province believe the project will create a long-term plan for 100 Avenue that ensures traffic and pedestrian safety while easing the issues that have stalled development in Morinville’s downtown core.
The FPS deals with provincial Highway 642 (100 Avenue) from Highway 2 to East Boundary Road, a stretch of road that is under the jurisdiction of Alberta Transportation. Both the Town and province are looking to find some alternative to the standard FPS for a provincial highway that says development on the road needs a 10-metre setback on each side of the road to meet the province’s highway standard of 50 metres. Currently, 100 Avenue is 23 metres wide, 30 metres in width with the current right of way. The additional 10-metre right of way requirement is a situation the Town says has driven away millions of dollars in potential commercial investment in the past.
Click Here to view a short video of where roundabouts are proposed over the next 75 years.
Attendees were told Thursday night Al-Terra Engineering, who have been working on the project, are recommending the use of modern roundabouts as the community’s long-term traffic management system. Residents heard roundabouts are different from traffic circles in that they are about half the diameter. Rather than an 80 to 100-metre traffic circle, consultants are proposing a 39-metre roundabout, a traffic flow device the Town says will allow more traffic on the highway while maintaining parking on both sides of 100 Avenue.
Planners anticipate traffic along Highway 642 will double in the next 25 years and triple in the next 75 years, at which time it is anticipated Morinville’s population will be 32,000 residents.
A variety of concerns were expressed over the idea of roundabouts. Resident Linda Lions advocated for putting the plan before the Town’s Traffic Safety Committee and said crossing at a roundabout would not work for visually impaired pedestrians. Some concern was also expressed about transport trucks with oversized trailers. Other residents expressed their concerns about the safety and costs of roundabouts compared to conventionaltraffic lights. Engineers are not recommending standard traffic light intersections as traffic increases because they would require two lanes east and west, two lanes for parking, and an additional lane that would serve as a dual turning lane along the stretch of road. Such a plan would require approximately 23 additional feet of right of way, which would greatly impact businesses on the south side of 100 Avenue to the point of some buildings being torn down.
The costs of building roundabouts versus conventional traffic signals and turning lanes are estimated to be the same. Where the major difference exists is in the amount of land required for one solution compared to the other. Based on 2012 dollars, it is estimated conventional lights and lanes would need $13.4 million in land acquisition. Roundabouts would require $6.9 million in land purchases.
Though the use of proposed roundabouts will reduce right of way requirements on the open stretches, they will require additional land at the intersections to make the roundabouts large enough to accommodate transport trucks.
Just when proposed intersections at 104 Street, 102 Street, 100 Street, and Grandin Drive would be upgraded is not know. Those intersection improvements would be done when Alberta Transportation deems them warranted, something the Town said is triggered by a number of factors, including traffic flow. The first intersection being proposed for improvement, possibly within the next five years, is 107 Street.
Morinville Shell owner Cheri Meunier expressed her and her husband Guy’s concerns on how the proposed roundabout at their intersection would impact the business. “The removal of buildings might not be the case at this corner but there are certain consequences,” she said, adding the installation of a roundabout at the intersection would close the northwest entrance to their gas station. “It also cuts across the canopy at the north side of the store, rendering that pump island useless.” Additionally, fuel trucks as well as soft drink and grocery delivery trucks would have to turn on 107 Street and then east into the alley behind the business, there to back up to service the gas station. “Shell does not allow trucks to back up. It is a safety concern,” Meunier said. “In effect, this proposal would force the closure of our business, resulting in 23 residents being unemployed. I know part of this plan is to draw business to Morinville, but how many businesses will be lost in the process?”
Seen as a necessary plan
Although full build out on the intersection improvements identified in the Highway 642 Functional Planning Study is at some distant point down the road when Morinville’s population reaches 32,000 residents, the Town believes the work is essential now so that Morinville can get past the developmental uncertainties and road blocks that have left marketable commercial land undeveloped.
Morinville resident Jim O’Brien said he was pleased with what he heard at the Apr. 25 open house compared to the one held last fall. “Tonight’s presentation was a vast improvement over the first open house,” O’Brien said. “They seemed to be making more effort to answer the questions that were being asked. I was very pleased with it. I am a roundabout fan because I’ve lived where they operate. I think we are on the right track.” O’Brien questioned the timeline on the plan, suggesting the land should be acquired now. “If this is the way we are going to go, I say let’s not wait. Let’s set it up now and go for it while it’s still relatively inexpensive because costs are only going to get a lot higher in the next 25, 50, 75 years.”
Councillor Nicole Boutestein, who has sat on the Highway 642 Functional Planning Study Committee over the past several months, has come away with the conclusion the plan is greatly needed in Morinville. “I can’t stress how important I feel it is for the town,” Boutestein said. “It’s the only way that we will develop 100th Ave. If we approve it and the public likes it, it goes to Alberta Transportation and because we’ve worked with them [in developing the plan] it should go off without a hitch.”
Boutestein said she believes with the FPS approved, development along 100 Avenue will be much easier for developers, a situation that will allow Morinville to increase its commercial tax base.
Landrex President Troy Grant, a resident of Morinville, is also in favour of the proposal. “Going from the current mandated 50-metre road width to a 30-metre road width allows the parcels that are currently undeveloped to be hemmed into their lot space and utilize the land to the best advantage,” Grant said, adding he feels it will promote growth within the downtown region. “It’s going to take some of those current lots that are empty, that can’t be exploited, and turn them into profitable spaces where the downtown will flourish.”
Morinville and District Chamber of Commerce Vice President Simon Boersma also believes the plan benefits Morinville from an economic development perspective. “The 50 metres is a big thing for us,” he said. “We don’t want to see the small businesses fold up the sidewalks. Basically that’s what’s going to happen. We want surety for new members coming in. This will allow business growth in our community to happen, and it will allow us to have a downtown corridor where people can shop. It will retain business right here in town.”
Though he sees a benefit to the plan, he is also concerned for those businesses like Shell that will be affected. Boersma said the Chamber would be sitting down with the owner of the Shell to discuss the matter. “There was not one sure answer tonight that I heard,” Boersma said of solutions for affected business owners. “I think that is something that is still on the table. As they said, if a plan is in place at least it is a starting point. I think that is the most important thing to take away tonight. We want to make sure this plan goes through for 85 to 95 per cent of our business residents on 100th, but we want to make sure everything else fits in. That is sitting down with those members and making sure they are looked after in the best way possible.
The Highway 642 Functional Planning Study is being done in connection with the Town’s Coeur de Morinville Area Structure Plan. The latter project looks at the entire downtown core with an eye to mixing commercial and residential opportunities. That project will be brought before the public in a final open house at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre scheduled for May 16 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Above right: Morinville resident Jim O’Brien asks a few questions about the Highway 642 Functional Planning Study during the Apr. 25 open house.