The 2016 capital plan was approved unanimously by council during its meeting on Jan. 25. It totals $4,524,590, representing more than $3 million in cuts since the preliminary budget was presented in December.
Because a provincial highway runs through the intersection, many councillors expressed an unwillingness to pay for what is the province’s responsibility.
“The safety of our community and the people who travel through it is important,” said Coun. Wade Bearchell. “Taxpayers are already paying provincial taxes for the government to deal with these issues and us having to pay for something they’re responsible for, I don’t think is the right path to be going down.”
Coun. Mary Jane Harper initially seemed to be willing to spend the money.
“I don’t have a concern with us putting $90,000 in advanced green turning (signals) on 57 Avenue,” Harper said. “We are going to be faced with a very horrific accident at 57 Avenue and Highway 27 where we’re going to have loss of life, eventually. And I don’t want it to be on our watch.”
But ultimately, facing economic pressures such as slowed growth, the town will instead start a lobbying campaign.
“I really do support them but I also recognize that in this time of economics, it’s important that we as Olds town council support reductions in our capital budget as well as our operating budget. Especially when that particular item is a provincial responsibility,” Harper said.
“I know that our MLA Nathan Cooper has been doing some advocacy work on our behalf for that intersection. We have to take the political route to encourage the province to take action on that. When you look at their budget of how many billions, a $90,000 project isn’t very much.”
But don’t expect Alberta Transportation to be paying for anything, any time soon, said chief administrative officer Norm McInnis. That’s because the ministry has a warrant system based on the number of vehicles that pass through the intersection — and this one doesn’t meet it.
“We will again get into the advocacy that there’s some danger at that intersection. Transportation will probably tell us again that it doesn’t meet the warrant to put capital dollars into it,” he said.
“When we first developed the capital budget for this year, it was determined by council it was serious enough that we were going to spend our own money.
“A downturn in the economy and various other things have changed and now they’re saying no, it’s not our responsibility; let’s go back to the provincial government, where the responsibility lies.
“So they’re going to do a letter-writing campaign but again, my advice to them would be, there’s a warrant system for that intersection and we’ve been told we do not meet that warrant.”
According to Coun. Harvey Walsh, poor design is the big issue with the intersection and that advanced turning signals won’t necessarily fix all its problems.
“When traffic is not heavy, it’s not bad. It’s actually quite easy. It’s the way that intersection is designed. A bunch of people are trying to make left- and right-hand turns, there’s a lot of traffic there. You can’t see past the cars waiting to turn. That’s what makes it dangerous,” Walsh said.
Harper said that if politics and money were not an issue, the town should completely “revamp” the area, as consultants recommended in a study years ago.
“Nothing has happened as a result of that report. Nothing. Except for the Town of Olds taking over that responsibility to close a number of entrances to Highway 27, where you’re now finding cul-de-sacs instead of entrances to Highway 27.”