PORT HAWKESBURY: The planned redesign of Port Hawkesbury’s main thoroughfare has raised some safety concerns for a local first responder.

Port Hawkesbury Volunteer Fire Department Chief Curtis Doucette says he is worried that the plan to reduce four lanes of traffic to three as part of the Destination Reeves Street project will impact his department’s ability to respond to emergencies. He fears the changes will impede members travelling to the fire hall, as well as responding in emergency vehicles.

“I’m concerned it’s going to increase response time in getting there,” said Doucette.

The proposed design for the project includes two lanes of traffic with an alternating turning lane in the centre.

“They’re forcing me into the centre lane, and if I get hit or if somebody hits our vehicle, whether we have lights and sirens on or not, we’re still in the wrong because they’re forcing us into oncoming traffic,” said Doucette.

Doucette is also concerned the new turning lanes may cause confusion for those unfamiliar with the street, especially when lane markers are covered with snow. In addition, he says the change may impact traffic flow around the scene of an accident.

“When we respond to a motor vehicle accident on Reeves Street, we’re usually shutting down a minimum of two lanes to safely do our work,” said Doucette. “But now, you’re taking a lane away. Depending on the accident, I might have to detour traffic all over town, and I don’t have the membership to start doing a traffic control situation like that.”

Doucette said he attended an open house on the project in December and shared his concerns with the town. The changes to the street will be under the supervision of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (DTIR).

“Ultimately, we’d like to talk to DTIR, see how they got their figures, see what kinds of solutions we can talk through here and hopefully come up with a solution that’s favourable for everyone,” said Doucette.

Doucette added that he supports the other components of the project.

“We don’t want to jeopardize the project for the town, obviously… We just have a few concerns that we’d like answered or addressed,” said Doucette.

Port Hawkesbury mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton told The Reporter in an e-mail last week that safety has been a main priority for the project from the beginning, citing a traffic study that was commissioned by the Town and DTIR in 2014. She added that the town began engaging with first responders early in the design process.

“The designs that we are working on with a wide group of stakeholders are based on proven best practices from other communities that faced similar challenges in terms of the volume and type of traffic,” she said.

“We have and will continue to provide research and contact information of other Atlantic Canadian locations where this type of project was implemented so stakeholders can speak directly to someone in their specific field.”

Chisholm-Beaton added that she believes the town’s upcoming “Move Over” campaign will help address some of the first responders’ concerns by reminding motorists to make way for emergency vehicles.

She urges anyone with questions or concerns to bring them to the town.

“At the end of the day, we want Reeves Street to meet the needs of all stakeholders and citizens,” she said. “We will continue to listen and accept feedback and do our best to provide the best information we can.”