Council debates Hwy. 97/22nd Ave. intersection, but has no say

City councillors are happy with upgrades to the Highway 97/22nd Avenue intersection but are questioning the need to close off access to 22nd Avenue from Westwood Drive.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has decided to upgrade the Highway 97/22nd Avenue intersection near the College of New Caledonia, which will involve closing off the access to 22nd Avenue from Westwood Drive. It’s a ministry decision, not city council.

The change is yet another move to improve pedestrian safety around the College of New Caledonia in the wake of the death in June of Sandeep Kaur. The CNC student was struck by a car on Highway 97 directly in front of the college. Following her death, the college removed a sidewalk that led to an old bus stop on Highway 97 … a spot that offered no pedestrian access across the four-lane highway but was frequently used by students. In October, the ministry of transportation erected a fence on the median on the highway, preventing pedestrian access.

To further improve pedestrian safety, at the Highway 97/22nd Avenue intersection the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure are in the process of changing the traffic signalization to introduce a dedicated left turn movement from 22nd Avenue Eastbound to Highway 97 northbound, according to the report going before council. Pedestrians will be allowed to cross Highway 97 on the north side of the intersection without the potential of a conflict with left turning traffic.

Northbound traffic from Westwood Drive be prohibited from entering the intersection at Westwood and 22nd Avenue.

General manager of engineering and public works Dave Dyer said there are about 1,800 vehicles per day go northbound on Westwood and about 600 southbound.

“I know there was a student death,” said Coun. Brian Skakun. “That hits home to a lot of people. I watched today where people were running across the highway. My concern is that we are going to be sending 2,000 vehicles, that normally use this intersection, to another route that perhaps locals might get used to, but other people when they go up Westwood Drive, they’re going to see that they can’t go up to 22nd, they’re going to have to back down Pine Centre or to the Highway 16/97 intersection.”

He said he hoped the city could work with the ministry to look for other options, adding an underpass would work well.

“Really we’re penalizing the drivers,” he said. “There’s no doubt we need some major improvements there, but I don’t think we need such a major disruption to our traffic.”

Coun. Terri McConnachie said she is grateful that the intersection is being improved.

“This intersection has been so dangerous, where you have left turn, right turn, through traffic and pedestrians all moving in the same space at the same time that it was deemed by many students to be safer to jaywalk and dash across traffic,” she said.

While she supported changes to the intersection, she questioned why Westwood Avenue had to be closed.

Dyer said the concern is there will be a longer queue with the left-turn signal.

Alternate access to Hwy 97 northbound is available from the on-ramp east of the overpass on Massey Drive, 550m east of the intersection of Westwood Drive and Massey Drive. The northbound lane of Westwood Drive between the Highway 97 southbound off-ramp/on-ramp and 22nd Avenue will be permanently closed to traffic in mid to late January 2019.

Dyer said it won’t happen immediately, but taking the asphalt out will cost the city about $200,000.