In the midst of the Great Flood of 2013 that threatened to submerge South Glens last week there was an interesting story that bobbed its way to the surface: Back in Morinville’s earlier days it was common for the downtown to flood, a scientific marvel caused by melting snow and rain that lifted the wooden sidewalks and gave Morinville youth an opportunity to paddle those sidewalks up and down the street.
Flash flood forward a half-century and no kid in their right mind would dare be in the middle of 100 Avenue. The volume of traffic, impatience of drivers not really wanting to stop for crossing pedestrians, and the pedal-to-the-metal driving habits of many passing through town makes 100 Avenue a treacherous patch of road to navigate.
Over the past century 100 Avenue has gone from a dirt road with wooden sidewalks to a provincial highway with concrete sidewalks. The four-legged horses have been replaced with four-wheel drive pickups, commercial vehicles and the odd moped. Things have changed.
Looking down the road tells us things will continue to change. The community will grow. Traffic will increase. Morinville will become a city. What will likely not change is that 100 Avenue will be the only (or certainly the major) east-to-west arterial road through the community. How then to handle traffic on that road when the population hits 10,000, 20,000, 30,000? How then to handle increased traffic and yet allow increased economic development opportunities for the downtown core that mix commercial shopping and dining opportunities with additional housing.
That is the purpose of the Highway 642 Functional Planning Study. As much as we locals may call it downtown, Main Street, 100 Avenue, or that road where people drive too fast; the fact remains it is known to the province as Highway 642.
Because it is a provincial highway, 100 Avenue falls under the development rules established for provincial highways. Simply put, if you have a million or two to invest in a business venture, don’t build here because you can’t build here. Buy a piece of vacant land on 100 Avenue today and you will need to build your building 10 metres off the road. That is roughly the length of a school bus. It just does not leave a lot of room for the building, certainly not enough to make it economically viable for anything beyond a hotdog cart. In fact, using current provincial rules for the road, none of the existing businesses on 100 Avenue could be built as they are now.
Alberta Transportation is working with the Town on the functional planning study that could allow that literal setback to be less of a figurative setback to those who would like to invest in the community. Few seem to disagree economic development is essential to the burdened wallets of residential ratepayers. Thursday night’s open house on the functional planning study certainly demonstrated that.
The experts tell us roundabouts – not traffic circles – are the answer because conventional traffic lights, in the long run, will mean the eradication of downtown parking and the elimination of one sidewalk. Businesses affected by proposed roundabouts most certainly have a say in matters that could impact their livelihoods and those of the people they employ. Other issues about how tough roundabouts will be to figure out or how they are inferior to traffic lights are dim by comparison.
Whatever the ultimate answer is to balance safe traffic and pedestrian flow with the healthy and steady flow of money through downtown businesses and thought the Town’s tax coffers, we need to spend a little less time fighting change for the sake of fighting change and start spending a little more time changing the fight so we at least have some common ground on which to operate. If we do otherwise we will find Alberta Transportation making the decisions for us at some point down the road, long after all of the businesses have gone on down that road where economic development is truly a community priority.