By Trevor Busch
Alberta Transportation’s planned paving project for Highway 3 through Taber in 2019 could include some significant impacts for highway business operators and motorists.
Alberta Transportation will be paving the westbound lanes of Highway 3 from west of Barnwell to east of Taber in 2019, including some eastbound lanes near Highway 36 north.
As part of the department’s design and construction contracts, consultants review highways for opportunities to improve safety and operations. Associated Engineering undertook a safety and operations review during summer 2017, and also met with town administration and engineering staff twice in 2017-2018 to discuss their findings.
“It’s primarily an overlay, except for the portion within town where we’ve got curb and gutter,” said Darryl Schalk, project manager with Associated Engineering, as part of a delegation at town council’s Nov. 13 regular meeting. “That’s a mill and inlay, so we mill out the asphalt and replace it with a new surface that ties to the curb and gutter that’s already there.”
Associated Engineering’s recommendations in addition to paving included ditch clean-out (3.6 km north and south sides of Highway 3), intersection illumination in Barnwell (three community accesses), transition speed zones (110 kph to 80 kph relocated 300 metres west and east of Taber), and intersection geometry.
“As you know, grades are quite flat in Taber, so there’s been a lot of sediment and silt build-up in the ditches, so our intent is to clean those up and try to improve the drainage,” continued Schalk.
Some of the firm’s recommendations are targeting access management, including narrowing some access points and closing others.
Associated Engineering cited Alberta Transportation’s Highway Geometric Design Guide as rationale for some of the recommended changes: “Attempts should be made to remove all non-essential means of access,” states the guide. “In all cases, prior consultation with the landowner regarding private access, or the local road authority regarding public access, is required.”
It was also noted in the firm’s presentation that “highway commercial access widths must accommodate the anticipated design vehicle. Any additional unnecessary width causes confusion and introduces conflict points within the access.”
Width reductions for access points are being recommended for the Luigi’s/Full Throttle area between 50th and 51st Streets (from 19 metres to 12 metres), the Husky service station area between 51st and 52nd Streets (from 27 metres to 16 metres), the Jiffy-Lube area between 53rd and 54th Streets (from 23 metres to 12 metres), and the area east of 55th Street (from 15 metres to 12 metres).
“Twelve is kind of the high end for a commercial access, unless there’s a larger design vehicle that needs to be accommodated,” said Chris Poirier with Associated Engineering, referencing the Luigi’s/Full Throttle access. “This will actually handle a large recreational vehicle, a standard bus size.”
Poirier indicated the size of the access near the Husky service station is well beyond what is needed for that location.
“This is a very, very large access. Eighty-eight feet long, we’re proposing reducing that to 16 metres. That’s actually sufficient to allow a large semi-truck to deliver the fuel, and if it were to be left as large as it is today — that’s a lot of room for more than one car to come in, or go out — it can tend to cause a bit of confusion on a busy summer day or a dark, rainy night. There’s a lot less discipline in the access itself, and they’re much larger than they need to be.”
Identical issues exist regarding the Jiffy-Lube access point, according to Poirier.
“Another very large access, almost 100 feet. By reducing it down to 12 metres, it still allows for a very large single unit such as a recreational vehicle, or even a passenger vehicle pulling a trailer, which is what you’d expect to see at such a business, not necessarily a large semi.”
Access closures are being recommended for the 7-11 access due to its close proximity to the 50th Street intersection and based on Transportation Association of Canada standards, one access between 52nd and 53rd Streets affecting the Chrysler dealership, a green space access east of 55th Street, and a current CPR access.
The proposed closure that drew the most opposition from town council was the 7-11 access east of 50th Street.
“Close to 50th Street — closer than you would want to have an access if you go by the Transportation Association of Canada standards,” said Poirier. “According to those standards, it’s a viable candidate for closure. It has a nearby access. We looked at potentially relocating it further to the east so it met the standard, but then it’s practically next to the existing one that’s there today, and it doesn’t really make sense to have two that close together.”
Coun. Jack Brewin outlined the 7-11 access is currently well used by large trucks passing through the community.
“On Highway 3 going through town, large trucks have very limited access if they want to pull over to stop, and that is well used by trucks in there.”
Coun. Joe Strojwas, a former owner of one of the affected businesses, Luigi’s Restaurant, was clearly opposed to the idea.
“I just want to go on record as opposing one entranceway for those two businesses for access. For the restaurant, the car wash and 7-11 all to access that one access, I think is a little tight.”
Coun. Louie Tams anticipated opposition to the proposal from the affected business operators.
“I think when you meet with the three businesses that are affected there, you’re going to hear a lot different story that what you’re proposing, because I think it’s going to severely affect those three businesses.”
Schalk indicated the closure would not proceed if it faced stiff public opposition.
“If that’s the case, and there’s legitimate reasons to leave it open, then that’s certainly what we’ll do. We’re not going to do something that’s going to create problems.”
Aside from access points, Poirier highlighted other concerns regarding the Chrysler dealership and current placement of display vehicles.
“This is an interesting parcel. It has four accesses, and the two eastern-most ones are not being used. So those have been recommended for closure. Something that was not part of the construction project, but is very obvious here — it’s more of an operational thing — is how close the vehicles are to the road itself. That can cause sightline issues for a northbound vehicle at 53rd Street exiting, and you’ll also notice that the trucks are on the sidewalk on 53rd Street.”
For intersection geometry, the lines at the 50th Street and Highway 3 intersection will be properly aligned on the north and south. Other recommendations include a westbound acceleration lane on Highway 3 at the intersection of Highway 36 south.
“They’re bound to ask, is council supporting that?” said Poirier, speaking in general about the proposed changes and potential reaction. “We would say not until we hear from you and report back. That would give you the opportunity to maybe help us craft the message that we share with them, how we do it, when we do it. Only then could we officially proceed with any access closures or modifications.”
Schalk reiterated that any change facing significant public opposition would not be implemented.
“Basically, if there’s a serious objection to what’s proposed, we wouldn’t go ahead with it. We would not do something that wouldn’t be publicly accepted. This is a fairly typical process where we go through access closure, or access relocation discussions. We try to work with the landowner, or business owner.”
Following discussion, council voted unanimously to endorse Associated Engineering contacting affected businesses and property owners on Highway 3 to discuss the proposed project.