Unless the residents of Central Saanich offer up serious opposition, mayor and council will likely approve a plan to install pedestrian refuge islands at the Mount Newton Cross Road and East Saanich Road intersection this year, at a cost of roughly $50,000.
Following a report from late 2014 outlining several options for increasing pedestrian and traffic safety at the intersection, District staff approached ICBC for potential cost-sharing through the company’s Road Improvement Program.
ICBC committed to contributing $13,000, on the condition that construction be completed in 2015. Council has to respond to ICBC by June 1 to guarantee the funding. The remaining $37,000 would come from the District’s gas tax reserves.
At the March 2 council meeting, staff recommended council provide early budget approval for the construction of the intersection improvements this year and that council approve the execution of the agreement with ICBC to secure the $13,000 grant.
Staff recommended the pedestrian refuge islands after engaging Opus International Consultants to prepare a report outlining several options to improve safety at the intersection, including installing signals, two styles of roundabouts and the refuge islands.
The costs of either a fully-lit intersection or a roundabout with a two-metre refuge island exceeded $250,000. A roundabout with a splitter island came in at approximately $250,000. And the cost for installing two-metre pedestrian refuge islands and retaining the current four-way stop configuration was an estimated $50,000.
Aside from the substantial costs, neither roundabout options were deemed feasible, as both would require significant land acquisition. The roundabout option with the two-metre refuge would actually require construction in the foot print of existing buildings.
Opus’ report also stated a roundabout is not warranted, as there are no capacity or queuing problems.
Councillor Chris Graham noted if traffic lights were to be installed at the Mount Newton Cross and East Saanich intersection, the District would likely have to look at the adjacent intersections at Mount Newton Cross and Wallace, and Mount Newton Cross and Central Saanich, to avoid negatively impacting traffic flow.
For the signals option, the District could be looking at close to $1 million if improvements were undertaken at all three intersections.
Conversely, installing pedestrian refuge islands would improve safety, minimize curb reconstruction and utility pole relocation, and would also allow for the potential addition of bike lanes along the East Saanich approaches, with a much smaller price tag. Installing pedestrian refuges now would not preclude the option for signalization at a later date.
If the refuge island option is approved, Central Saanich Director of Engineering David McAllister explained that a reduction in the current eight lanes would be phased in, with an initial reduction to six lanes and the potential to move to four.
The aim would be to simplify traffic patterns without reducing travel time, he said.
Despite the tight timeline for completion, Coun. Bob Thompson pushed to defer a decision to allow council time to make the public aware of the options available and council’s rationale behind selecting the refuge islands over the more expensive options.
Both Mayor Ryan Windsor and Coun. Carl Jensen expressed concern over introducing a delay, as they both felt there had already been significant public input regarding the intersection to date.
“I think the residents would be comfortable that we are taking steps to make this intersection safer,” said Jensen.
“My concern is in regard to this fitting into the works plan,” said Windsor. “We’re talking about potentially a month and a half delay.”
Windsor pointed to the expertise of ICBC regarding traffic safety and emphasized that it was the refuge islands option that ICBC specifically recommended and offered to partially fund.
“We often rely on information from independent bodies,” said the mayor, “and I’m not sure to what extent the public would not have confidence in this report.”
At a vote, the proposed improvements and budget approval were deferred so council could notify various community groups of the proposed changes and to allow a period of public input.
The improvement plans are tentatively scheduled to return to council on March 23.
McAllister also noted that the Central Saanich website will soon have a detailed page for the project, in the “District Projects” drop-down menu on the main page.
For more information, visit centralsaanich.ca.