The controversy surrounding the lane configuration for the Destination Reeves Street project underscores the need for a by-pass around the town.
During the regular monthly meeting on February 5, town councillors in Port Hawkesbury unanimously defeated a motion to remove the road re-design component of the project, then unanimously passed a motion with some eleventh-hour changes, including the removal of the bike lane component of the pilot, improvements to the MacSween intersection and new crosswalk infrastructure at MacSween Street and Old Sydney Road.
Dwayne Cross, a senior engineer with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (DTIR), advised that the on-road bike lanes were taken out of the new design, opting to go with a paved shoulder, but he noted they could potentially be installed in the future.
Councillor Blaine MacQuarrie, who introduced the original motion to remove the road re-design during January’s council meeting, said safety was his main priority, particularly mixing heavy industrial traffic with regular and commercial traffic.
The most significant change in the new design, he said, was the removal of the bicycle lanes on both sides of Reeves Street, creating an additional two meters of extra space on either side of the road.
To address the congestion issue, DTIR has committed to install new traffic lights at the Pitt and Reynolds intersections, as well as dedicated left-turn lanes, and will introduce right-turn lanes, from Pitt Street to Reeves Street at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre, and from Reeves Street to Pitt Street, at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church.
Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton said there will be a three-month adjustment period, followed by a 12-month monitoring period to cycle through the four seasons to understand how the road will work.
The mayor said the construction of the active transportation lane is scheduled to start this spring, the changes to Reeves Street could start as early as August, with the façade upgrades being carried out over the next two years.
Given that the opposition to the project was primarily based on safety concerns as a result of the reduced number of lanes and current volumes and varieties of traffic, and over time, it will be more difficult for Reeves Street to handle this amount of traffic, the town needs to start lobbying the province for a by-pass around the town.
In February, 2017 the DTIR hosted public consultations asking if the public supports using tolls to accelerate the timeline for highway twinning.
The consultations come after the department released a twinning feasibility study which included looking at a 6.75 kilometre section of road between Port Hastings and Port Hawkesbury, which would branch-off Trans-Canada Highway 105 after the Port Hastings Rotary, follow the power lines and come out on the other side of the town, where motorists would then turn onto Highway 104 past the highway garage.
The total cost is pegged at around $87 million.
A decade ago, the town was pushing for the by-pass as a way to reduce traffic – particularly large vehicles, commercial and industrial traffic, and those driving between other parts of Cape Breton and the mainland.
The town council and mayor of the day fully supported this idea, with the intent that it would allow for better traffic flow within Port Hawkesbury, provide better access to businesses and services, and make streets safer for drivers and pedestrians.
But on February 22, 2017, the town issued a press release stating it opposed the proposed project by-passing Port Hawkesbury, noting that it was lobbying for the Destination Reeves Street project instead.
Now that the Reeves Street project has been formally approved, now that money has been committed and with work scheduled to start, it’s time for the by-pass push to be reignited.
The by-pass will address future safety concerns regarding Reeves Street, as well as other main streets in the town. It will force traffic just passing through the town to use the by-pass, and it will allow those who want to visit the town to do so much easier.
As it stands, Reeves Street can handle the volume of traffic it currently experiences, but any increase to that would create problems. If there is any growth in the economy; if another large scale employer opens, if a large scale project begins, or if there is more activity than there is currently, the street could be inundated.
Before that happens, the town needs to sit down with provincial officials to determine how the by-pass can be accomplished.
At less than seven kilometres and a modest price tag, this can be accomplished without the use of tolls, although its construction might require the use of Public-Private Partnerships – like that taking place over the twinning of Highway 104 – so it can be done in a timely manner.
Since it will take many years before this will even be approved, now is the time to start the work to make it a reality.