July 08, 2009

Winston Churchill won't be paved until at least 2013

As published in The Erin Edvocate

Winston Churchill Boulevard, between Olde Baseline Road and Terra Cotta, may eventually be rebuilt to modern safety standards, but it won't happen for at least four more years.

A public information session at the Terra Cotta Inn last week revealed a tangled web of political, environmental and safety issues that have continually delayed improvement of this notoriously bumpy stretch of gravel road.

Many of the commuters are from Erin, needing a route to Mississauga Road. From Erin village, they can go through Belfountain, or south on the paved section of Winston Churchill, then east on Old Baseline. But for those of us in the south, a paved trip requires many kilometers of extra travel. That will improve once 5 Sideroad is rebuilt this year, providing paved access to Olde Baseline, taking some of the pressure off the Terra Cotta route.

Albert Almiron lives on the Ninth Line, and drives the gravel section of Winston Churchill daily. He has been trying to build support for paving ever since March, 2008, when his daughter was forced off the road by a driver who had moved over to find a smoother surface. This was on the hill south of Ballinafad Road, where sightlines are poor, one of the spots that would be more level in the proposed plan.

"The road turns into a mess as soon as there is a little rain," said Ninth Line resident Gerry Karker. "I don't see the harm if it was paved. It is not a minor road."

In 2007, after a previous meeting, Winston Churchill resident Art Rice submitted this comment: "Pave this road, and do not listen to the tree huggers. My family has had two accidents because of this road."

Winston Churchill is the boundary between Peel Region (Caledon) on the east, and Wellington County (Erin) on the west. South of Ballinafad Road, the west side is Halton Region (Halton Hills). Since it is a regional road, the $4 million cost of reconstruction would be shared by the regions and county.

I asked Peel Regional Councillor Richard Paterak if one of the main reasons the road north of the Terra Cotta has been left unpaved is to maintain a barrier to commuter traffic, and he said that is a "fair statement" of the situation.

Residents of Terra Cotta do have valid concerns. Drivers will often ignore the posted 50 kph speed limit, cruising by the conservation area at 80-100 kph, or cutting onto narrow side routes like Isabella Street, to save a few seconds on their trip to work.

These problems, however, and the prospect of increased traffic flow, do not justify a terrible road. As of 2006, it handled 245 vehicles per hour each morning, and 300 each afternoon.

"The gravel driving surface is in extremely poor condition and is not in compliance with current engineering standards," said Project Manager Solmaz Zia. She has assured Terra Cotta residents that the rebuilt road would not be a haul route for the Rockfort Quarry, if it is built.

If you would like to make a comment, email her at: solmaz.zia@peelregion.ca by the end of next week. More information is available at www.peelregion.ca – go to Public Works - Roads - Environmental Assessments. An Environmental Study Report is set for this fall.

Paterak is also a member of the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC), which must be satisfied before any development can proceed. "We're well on our way to crossing the t's and dotting the i's," he said.

There would be a four-way stop at Ballinafad Road and a three-way stop at Olde Baseline, with painted markings directing southbound traffic to turn east. Caledon Mayor Marolyn Morrison even suggested the possibility of a "Local Traffic Only" sign for the road to the south of Olde Baseline.

Terra Cotta resident Dave Rutherford wants the southbound stop sign removed and the road designed to flow even more traffic to the east. "We're not opposed to paving," he said. "We just want to make it safer for everybody."

A rebuilt road would be wider (with bike lanes) and concerns have been raised about preserving stone fences and an old butternut tree. There are also breeding ponds nearby for the Jefferson Salamander, an endangered species.

To reduce its impact, the road is designed to wind slightly to avoid sensitive spots. Urban-style curbs are planned for some areas, taking rainwater along the road to outlet points, reducing the need for wide ditches. "They have tried to address the concerns, but I'm not sure they have succeeded," said NEC Senior Strategic Advisor Kathryn Pounder.

Peel's 1996 reconstruction plan was shelved, and the current plan is on its third version since 2006. If approved, design work would happen in 2010, property acquisition and utility relocation in 2011 and 2012, then construction in 2013. The paved S-bend would not be rebuilt.