By Cole Parkinson
With a new facility in the area, a request has come into the Municipal District of Taber around potentially paving Range Road 16-2 between Township Road 9-4 and Township Road 10-0.
With an extremely rough estimate of $2 million for the project, the request was brought forward to council during their May 25 meeting.
“Typically when these types of requests come in, we start with obtaining a traffic count so we have accurate volume and velocity numbers,” reads administration’s report. “These numbers then drive the discussion going forward. Other factors that are considered include distance to nearest hard surface road, agricultural or commercial development and a number of residences. Adverse effects also need to be considered such as the increased speeds that will occur after a hard surface is applied and the safety issues that are presented from that. Hard surfacing a road and then reducing the speed limit on rural roads could be counterproductive, and potentially difficult to enforce.”
It was also pointed out there was new industry in that area using those roads.
“On this road, there’s a recently built potato storage facility and large farmyard that’s probably only five or six years old. Because Township Road 9-4 is a soil-cement road, what it does is forces them during different times of the year down this road. I guess more importantly, how has council dealt with these situations in the past to decide which roads become hard surfaces roads?” asked Coun. John Turcato. “I know not that long ago, there was some oil roads built in the municipality and I understand oil roads aren’t the best, they’re not very good for high, heavyweight traffic, but they’re good for high, light traffic like cars and trucks, but not so much for heavy loads.”
“They can’t use 9-4 over to 16-4 because of weights at different times of the year? But they would use that route if they were allowed to?” replied Reeve Merrill Harris.
Turcato pointed out the number of houses in that area and discussed the possibility of speed reductions.
“Yes, but I think another possibility might be, because there’s seven houses within probably half a mile there, even if there was a possibility of a speed reduction. I did run that by the person who drafted the letter and they thought that may be a solution that was more affordable than trying to hard surface that two-mile section of road. That might be something that might be beneficial.”
With administration looking to do some traffic counting, it was explained what would be needed in order for them to seriously look at paving the road.
“I’m pretty much on the same line as John there — that I just wanted to initiate the discussion. If I know where council sits on it, a lot of times with these, as I laid out in the memo, I’m going to put the traffic counter out,” added Stu Weber, director of public works.
“But I typically try to approach these in a data-driven format. Like with AT (Alberta Transportation), they need to see 400 cars per day before they start to look at any sort of hard surfacing. I’m not saying that’s the be-all, end-all, there’s lots of different factors to all this stuff and that’s why I like to collect the data to start with,” continued Weber.
“Given the amount of activity that is happening in that area, and over the next few years here, we’re going to want to be really careful with potentially doing work that could be undone via another project of some sort,” he added. “If we put a hard surface on this road, then we’re forcing traffic to 16-3 or 16-1, whichever way they decide to go. So we just moved the usage.”
Weber also touched on reducing speeds on the road.
“Speed zones are only as good as enforcement. I’ve got another road here west of town that I’ve been doing research on that came in on another service tracker, and it’s a hard surface road. The speeds are 120, 130, so making a 60 zone in that location, you know if people are already doing 40 over the limit, is dropping it to 60 really going to make a difference to anybody? That’s just something we need to have a discussion around as well.”
Others on council went a bit deeper on the issue and inquired if neighbours were aware of these large operations in their area. With these types of operations, the traffic on roads becomes much higher and the dust becomes another factor.
“I wonder if this is a bigger picture in the sense of if it just got put up not too long ago,” stated Coun. Leavitt Howg. “I wonder if there needs to be some building permits for some of these farm operations so neighbours can have their say on if they agree with them, or a consultation with their neighbours on putting some of these buildings up so everyone is aware that it’s going to put up. If they can get along and be okay with it rather than it become an issue later on. It’s something that is dealt with beforehand before it’s an issue.”
“I wonder if a discussion with the operator might help let them know it’s a concern for the neighbours. Even if they just slowed down a little bit, that would help things out,” added Harris.
Turcato pointed out gravel roads sometimes have an illusion of higher speeds because of the dust.
“Their concern isn’t with high-speed vehicle traffic, it’s with large loads. Even if you’re going under the speed limit, with a large load and dusty conditions, it looks like you’re going much faster than you are with the dust it provides on really dry conditions,” he said. “I’m sure they were staying within the speed limit, I think it may not be a bad idea to reduce the speed limit there. I don’t know if that’s an option or not. I think the ratepayers would appreciate that, I don’t know the operator of the facility would appreciate that, but I mean once you’re rolling, slowing down by 10 or 20 kilometres an hour when you’re rolling by these seven residences isn’t a terrible thing to have to do either.”
Others were still concerned about the amount of dust produced.
“I think Leavitt is correct, there is a big problem in the M.D. I’ve received in the last two or three years, regular calls on dust issues. When public works does the analysis, the speeds are within the speed limit. I’ve gone and sat on those roads and you can’t see the other vehicle, so what I am thankful for is we haven’t have any major wrecks,” said Coun. Tamara Miyanaga. “I find the operators are actually cooperative, but then they get a contractor or someone’s hauling manure or gravel or different things, and you just go that speed. In some of my instances, the operator has paid for the calcium, which I felt was a very good nature thing, but I do think when we’re seeing these half a million-dollar homes going up in the M.D. of Taber — those questions are going to continue and some are $1 million homes, it’s going to continue to be an issue. How do we go forward? We’ve heard comments that calcium is too expensive, so I’m not sure if they know how much they’d have to pay for some dust-free surface.”
“The only true way to deal with dust is with an oil, asphalt or a seal coat of some sort. But yes, then you’re into multi-millions of dollars to do that. Putting speed limits everywhere there’s a house — that’s not practical. So no, there really isn’t a good magic answer. To me, it’s about those numbers and then of course, what are people willing to pay for? If they’re willing to pay a bunch of extra tax to have that road paved, well then that’s something we can loot at differently as well,” said Weber, who also addressed haul roads. “At any given time, any road in the M.D. could potentially be seeing lots of truck traffic. The haul roads, they can funnel some of that, I think that’s probably a good way to look at it, but if we put a hard surface on a haul road, we can’t be planning to ban that. Otherwise, we just defeated the purpose. Definitely, (it’s) something we need to look into.”