Roads 101 - a Conversation with our Ministry Area Manager
Fourteen gathered in the United Church Meadow (for the last time: see below for news of our new location!) to welcome our Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) Area Manager, Owen Page. Although he has only been our Area Manager since this spring, he offered us a wealth of information at this ASK Salt Spring gathering.
After our Territorial Acknowledgement, we learned a bit about Owen’s scope of responsibility as our Roads Area Manager. While we all believe that Salt Spring should be his most important responsibility, we learned that he coordinates MoTI initiatives for a large area, including all the provincial roads in the expansive CRD: (https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=map+of+BC+CRD+district&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8).
While normal road maintenance is the responsibility of the maintenance contractor, Emcon, Owen works closely with them to ensure conformance with their contractual obligations and assist them in identifying and prioritizing maintenance activities. He also works with them to plan, organize, and implement the delivery of various small scale road rehabilitation and improvement projects. Larger projects, like the repaving of Ganges Hill, are managed by a MoTI-directed Project Manager.
Emcon, contracted by MoTI for our roads maintenance, currently gets roughly $14 million a year for regular maintenance as well as some other special projects like smaller paving jobs. At an ASK Salt Spring gathering this spring with Emcon Operations Manager, Andrew Gaetz ( https://www.saltspringcommunityalliance.org/post/culverts-101-and-other-road-maintenance-challenges), we learned that Emcon spent $1.3 million on Salt Spring last year, with another million on flood-related emergency repairs. So, while maintenance decisions are largely made based upon usage, one might conclude that Salt Spring fares well when compared to the many kilometers of provincial roads serviced by Emcon’s contract.
One of many deferred maintenance tasks is the replacement of hundreds - if not thousands - of Salt Spring’s aging culverts. While they are being systematically replaced by larger ones, it is a daunting task that will take years to complete. Despite the annual inventory resulting in their planned replacement, Owen welcomes reports of culverts that appeared to be clogged and/or broken. The best place to begin for this as well as all other maintenance issues would be to call Emcon’s Hazard Line: 1-866-353-3136.
Owen’s daunting task is to listen to local governments and residents in his many communities, assess their roads, and present his ideas and recommendations to his supervisor. Subject to the approval of his supervisor, the initiative is presented to MoTI’s engineering team for potential review and design. Projects approved by the engineering team - often following a study – can then be delivered, pending available funding and priorities. It is easy to understand how difficult it is to navigate this bureaucracy to accomplish even seemingly-simple tasks, but Owen maintained a cheerful and optimistic outlook, despite these challenges.
As Owen’s area of responsibility spans many municipalities as well as rural districts, he was asked if it was easier to work with municipalities or rural areas, like Salt Spring. This was an easy answer for Owen: Municipalities pay for and maintain the majority of their roads out of their own tax base. Owen’s only responsibility with cities are the numbered highways and arterial road traversing them. Clearly, Owen spends the majority of his time with the rural districts, like Salt Spring, as most roads are a provincial responsibility. He noted that, unlike other of his rural areas, Salt Spring has a vibrant, almost urban, feel to it during its busiest times, making its rural roads a bit of a contradiction.
It is generally-accepted that slowing traffic is one of the best ways to address safety concerns for all: cars, pedestrians, and cyclists. Many of us were surprised to learn that 30 km/hr speed limits are generally reserved for elementary schools and playgrounds. (Presumably, the theory is that high school students can cross safely.) Owen has been working with our local CRD Engineer to review requests for new 30 km/hr designation to the beach accesses at both North End as well as Cusheon Lake Roads.
When asked about a long-standing proposal to lower the Ganges speed limit to 30 km/hr, Owen told us that the reduction of speed limits on provincial roads to 30km/hr is rare and subject to an engineering study. That said, he believes that this speed reduction is being reviewed as part of the project to repave and widen Ganges Hill, expected to be in 2023.
While most participants lauded this proposed speed reduction, several did not: one insisting that Ganges is always so crowded that one can never drive more than 20 km/hr anyway and another (not a Salt Springer) convinced that we need to get over it and add traffic lights :)
While Owen is intrigued by creative ideas to slow traffic to address our safety concerns - like those working well in other countries - he in generally bound by initiatives approved by BC Design Standards: (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/transportation/transportation-infrastructure/engineering-standards-guidelines/highway-design-survey/tac-bc).
While many traffic calming devices are included in this extensive list of approved methods, like roundabouts and crosswalks, each proposed traffic calming initiative needs assessment by engineering professionals before proceeding.
While enforcement is always an issue, one device that appears to be effective at a relatively minimal cost is a solar-powered speed reader board, reminding folks when they are exceeding the speed limit and acknowledging them with a smile when they proceeding at a safe pace. While funding is always a hurtle, ICBC can offer support. (Note: ICBC has generously given major support to the CRD Transportation Commission’s project to install five solar-powered speed reader board at locations with major safety concerns. Watch for them. . . )
Owen warned us that other options - like speed humps - are not approved for use on BC provincial roads and would be an uphill battle - at best - to install on our roads. (Note: the section of Beddis Road, a well-publicized exception to this prohibition, is privately-owned.)
Concerning a multi-use trail (we call them bike lanes) from Fulford to Vesuvius ferry terminals, we learned that projects like this that need significant funding tend to be political decisions, so support from our MLA. Adam Olsen is a critical component. (He will be joining ASK Salt Spring Friday, October 7, 11-1, in the Middle School Lobby. You can ask him then!)
While road painting is a separate MoTI contract and not part of Owen’s area of responsibility, he worked hard to get our centre lines painted this year. While some wondered why all centre lines were not painted as well as longing for fog lines, we learned that the total line painting contract for all of southern Vancouver Island as well as the Gulf Islands was $120,000, and Salt Spring got $40,000 of it!
With a note of levity, one participant told us that the old timers’ solution was to drive in the centre of our roads, this limiting wear on the centerline paint as well as unneeded wear and tear on the thinner edges of our roads. (Probably wise not to follow this advice. . . )
A participant noted how difficult it was to get needed line painting - and then having to fight the battle all over again within a year or so. He asked about other options and suggested a pilot project of installing cats’ eyes on a dangerous stretch of especially curvy roads like Lower Ganges near Baker and Booth Canal Roads.
Owen outlined the challenges with cats’ eyes (https://www.team-bhp.com/news/all-you-need-know-about-road-studs-cats-eyes):
Embedded cats’ eyes are very expensive, requiring a machine to install,
While far less expensive, surface-mounted cats’ eyes seldom last a season - very vulnerable to snow plows and other heavy equipment, and
Embedded cats’ eyes are generally placed when the road is resurfaced rather than on an existing road.
Despite these hurtles, Owen encouraged this participant, a member of the CRD Transportation Commission, to submit a proposal outlining details so that Owen can confer with his supervisor and - possibly - recommend further consideration.
Owen was also asked to advocate for either cats’ eyes or a microgroove (longer-lasting paint in a groove) on the soon-to-be-repaved Ganges Hill.
What about smaller, dark, curvy - and often wet - residential roads that are not wide enough for cats’ eyes or even centre lines? A long-lasting, relatively-inexpensive, and MoTI-approved option, is reflectors at the side of the road to help motorists delineate the edge - if not the centre - of the road.
A participant spoke with passion about the safety concerns at Fulford, Vesuvius, and Crofton ferry terminals, reminding us that parking on MoTI roads, blocking passage, is simply illegal. Owen agreed, aware of the problem. We learned from Owen that, during its busiest times, Swartz terminal experiences similar challenges, with traffic stretching all the way to Pat Bay Highway. While solutions are elusive, Owen believes that BC Ferries may be required to provide staff to manage traffic flow.
Concerning Fulford, this ferry advocate has concluded that the only solution at Fulford is to fill in a portion of the harbour to make room for the needed additional parking. (Fill was used to create portions of this terminal many years ago.)
As this part of the conversation was concluding, we were reminded that taking the bus to our ferries would address at least part of the problem.
As 1:00 was approaching, we learned the MoTI Area Managers have recently been given traffic count equipment using radar technology rather than that familiar cord across the road. This instrument is able to collect traffic counts, speeds, and differentiate between commercial and passenger vehicles.
As soon as he has training on its use, Owen will begin using it to assess traffic volumes on select roads. Clearly aware of the significant differences in volume between the winter and the summer tourist season, he will do these traffic counts several times during the year. This information could be very useful in reclassifying roads and identifying roads that have an usually high flow of industrial vehicles. Stay tuned. . . .
While the questions came quickly and, in Owen’s words, Some were hard balls, we all left pleased with the information we gained, newly-aware of the complexities of Owen’s difficult job, very grateful for the work he is doing for us, and so pleased that he is willing to take his time to journey here to answer our questions. (Thank-you, Owen!)
As September 30 is a holiday, a Day of Truth and Reconciliation, there will be no ASK Salt Spring gathering this Friday.
Please join us at our NEW LOCATION - the *Lobby of the Middle School on Friday, October 7 to welcome MLA Adam Olsen.
*From Rainbow Road, turn right just after the School Board building and drive up the hill where you can park. Enter the building on the left as you look at it, and you will see the Lobby to the right as soon as you enter.
See you Friday, October 7, 11-1 in the Middle School Lobby to welcome Adam!
What would you like to ask Adam?
What do you hope to accomplish in the last months of 2022 and into 2023?
Are there particular bills that we should understand?
Do you think the requested Islands Trust Act review will be approved?
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the province?
How can you see addressing them?
And. . . ?
Please join us this Friday, October 7 for a rich conversation with Adam. Remember: the Middle School Lobby!
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