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Woolwich wants quicker action on road improvements

Waterloo Region’s decades-out plan for improving growing traffic congestion between Elmira and points south doesn’t jibe with Woolwich’s own concerns.

In adopting a new transportation master plan, the region sees the widening of Reg. Rd. 85/Arthur Street occurring over the next 15 to 25 years, while a bypass route around downtown Elmira is earmarked beyond the 2018-2041 timeline of the new planning document.

Woolwich wants to see the timelines moved up, while the region is hoping intersection improvements at the St. Jacobs roundabout and, perhaps, at Arthur Street and Listowel Road will ease some of the traffic woes in the meantime.

A more lasting solution to traffic on Reg. Rd. 85 would see the route expanded to four lanes for the entire way from Hwy. 85 to Elmira, but that’s not likely for at least a couple of decades. The new master plan has the southern portion – from Waterloo to St. Jacobs – on the radar in the 2018-2031 timeframe, with the other half in the following 10-year span.

Logistics, environmental studies and finances are all at play in the timelines.

One of the biggest hurdles would be twinning of the bridge south of St. Jacobs, noted the region’s transportation director, Steve van De Keere, who provided an update on the master plan to Woolwich council earlier this month.

Initial planning work, including an environmental assessment (EA) process, for an expansion of Reg. Rd. 85 are likely to get underway this year or next, he noted. An Elmira bypass route, while not in the queue before 2041, will see an EA get underway within the next three years.

“We’ve looked at the timing for road widenings, based on volumes,” he said.

Overall, the region’s focus on transit, walking and cycling will have little if any impact on traffic congestion in the township, particularly the route between Elmira and Waterloo.

In the interim, the region will look at reducing traffic bottlenecks at the St. Jacobs roundabout by extending the right lanes in both directions. That intersection tends to be the weakest link in the flow of traffic, van De Keere suggested.

Extended lanes would be particularly helpful with slow-moving vehicles such as trucks, noted Dan Kennaley, Woolwich’s director of engineering and planning. Much longer lanes would allow trucks to keep to the right, getting up to highway speed before merging back into single-lane traffic, for instance.

It’s a stopgap measure that was welcomed by Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz, who said this week she’s continuing to look for answers from regional staff.

Starting an EA process that runs three years, for example, doesn’t help a problem that needs to be addressed now, she noted.

“Waiting three years for a solution is not the answer.”

As for the actual expansion of the Reg. Rd. 85, Shantz acknowledges that’s years away yet.

A bypass route is somewhat beyond the pale given the timeline beyond 2041.

“At least it’s on paper – it’s a start,” she said. “It’s something we’ll have to continue to push for.”

For his part, van De Keere said an Elmira bypass is a very long-term project. The region will have to determine if there’s a need and, then, where it fits into its list of priorities.

“A new road takes at least 10 to 15 years. Even if we started today on the bypass, the earliest we could get it done is probably 15 years,” he said, citing the example of the extension of River Road in Kitchener, where planning has been underway since 2003 and there’s still no construction underway. “It gives you a bit of a comparison.”

While somewhat mollified by the region’s promise to start the EA process within three years, Kennaley said the bypass route is a priority for Woolwich.

“A case can be made that the bypass is needed now, not in 2041-plus.”

With that in mind, the township has begun mapping out its own alternative route in conjunction with longer-term development of an industrial subdivision on the east is of Elmira. In redrawing the town’s boundary lines, local planners have set the stage for road that would run from south to north parallel to Arthur Street but bypassing the core.

“We’ve started the process through boundary rationalization in Elmira that will see the development of a new arterial road,” Kennaley explained, adding the region should take note of the work being done by the township. “They’re going to have to take into account what we’re doing in terms of this new arterial road.”

Shantz said the region should be working with Woolwich to ensure an optimal configuration of a bypass route.

“It just makes sense to me to do the full plan,” she said.

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