By Greg Price
The Town of Taber and Municipal District of Taber councils held a public meeting last Tuesday at the Heritage Inn, to clear the air once and for all with concerned farmers and business owners over the dispute of a road ban being placed by the town on 50th Street, north of 64th Avenue, which limits use and access by heavy vehicles and equipment.
“We just all wanted to get into the same room and come up with some ideas and plans to what we can do to move forward on 50th Street,” said M.D. of Taber Reeve Brian Brewin in opening remarks to the packed banquet room at the Heritage Inn.
Part of the frustration from farmers and heavy transportation operators who used the road, was the back and forth communications between the two councils as to how much each municipality should be helping with the road build and maintenance.
At their March 23 regular meeting, town council had voted unanimously to direct administration to construct a 50th Street road rehabilitation (64th Avenue to 80th Avenue) to a minor collector road standard. This decision was made by council against the advice of administration, which had recommended constructing the 50th Street rehabilitation to industrial collector road standards, which could have supported heavy truck and equipment traffic. The move resulted in the road ban so the town could protect its investment with a longer-lasting road, much to the dismay of previous users. Taber town council alluded in a late September meeting that part of the blame for building the road to the lower standard on the refusal of the M.D. of Taber to co-operate with the project at its inception.
“We looked at the product after it was constructed and did some testing on the strength of the road and we are happy with the road. We achieved slightly better than the design called for,” said Tom Leavitt, of MPE Engineering. “But it is designed for a minor road. It is generally passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks. There will be some bus traffic and large vehicles, but it’s not the primary use. It is designed for a 20-year design life. By adding additional traffic to that design, it will deplete that life span.”
Concerns voiced in previous meetings made with the M.D. of Taber and Town of Taber included determination on who has access to utilize the road; communication between Town of Taber staff, Taber police and the community; safety concerns about alternative routes on Highways 3 and 36; weight restrictions on traffic utilizing the road and numerous businesses, farms and water trucks who utilize the road, including the town and M.D. of Taber.
Leavitt indicated discussions have been ongoing with the town to do another overlay of asphalt on the road to get to a similar structural rate to an industrial road that was originally looked at. Estimated improvement to the road would cost $260,000.
“It’s not exactly the same, it’ll be a little more asphalt and less granular, but the combinations of those two will be very similar in strength to that industrial road.”
Brewin cautioned as soon as the portion of 50th Street that may have improvements done to it in town limits, hits the boundary of the M.D. in the spring, a road ban by the M.D. would be put on.
“It’s a cement stabilization road, so we would have to put a 75 per cent ban on our road in the spring regardless,” said Brewin. “So, even if you build this to a non-banned level, we would still have to ban our road in the spring for a couple of months period. It is still going to be restrictive for a certain amount of time.”
Blair Rombough of JEB Transport spoke from the audience and noted having lower speed limits on the portion of 50th Street in question could help alleviate the necessity of a road ban.
“When it comes to semis and weight, the slower you go the less damage you do. You are giving the pavement time to react before the next axle come over. That’s what the Americans do, I used to truck there lots,” said Rombough. “If I tell my guys to do that, they’ll do it. I pay town taxes. In a two-week stretch, I probably haul 400 semi loads into storage.”
The road ban has made Rombough’s crews go down 64th Avenue and turn 0n Highway 36.
“That is very dangerous. We have had near misses this fall because of a mile stretch. My guys were turning on that Highway 36 fully loaded. Having to turn left, there were four items we got passed as we were signaling,” said Rombough. “Is it going to take someone slamming into us? I’m all for road bans, I work with the M.D. in the spring. My guys, I tell them 50 (kilometres) on the gravel. If you guys want us to go 30 kilometres an hour in the fall time, we will, because it saves us time. This fall, because you guys wouldn’t allow us on there, we lost two hours a day in production because we had to go Highway 36.”
People in the gallery inquired why the town arrived at a 5,000 kilogram weight limit for the road before bans go into place. It was part of the bylaw that Town of Taber CAO Greg Birch admitted the town is looking at changing.
“We are recognizing that weight in our bylaw is probably too low. It’s up to town council of course, but we’re looking at a proposal to move it to 12,000 kg. Right now, 5,000 kg doesn’t allow for one-tonne service trucks,” said Birch, clarifying to the audience that tractors/combines are exempt from the bylaw. “That’s registered weight. The problem any municipality has, is it posts bans on roads, but there is very little enforcement on it. You have to hope the province is going to come help out. You have to have scales and people trained. A ban is one thing, enforcement is another thing. ”
Gallery member Peter Mitchell wondered how roads so close together can be so vastly different.
“I don’t understand how you build a feeder road into another road. One road is designed for trucks, but the feeder road isn’t. You say you are building for industry. We employ people in the M.D., we employ people in the town, you have to think about the whole picture,” said Mitchell. “Why would we have a connector road we can’t use, when we can use all the other roads.”
Town councillor Joe Strojwas noted to the crowd that future development that is planned for the area. With sports fields in the area and the industrial area being pushed further to the east of the cemetery with plans of residential, a school and a church being built in the area, the road was not looked as a connector road.
“We were looking at a compost site over there as well, so when you look at what is going on in that area, it’s not industrial based,” said Strojwas of how the decision was made to build the road to a minor collector road standard. “We were looking at more residential, schools and sports fields. We did our analysis on that.”
Near the end of the meeting, gallery member Casey Gouw voiced his frustrations over both councils worrying about what is going to happen 20 years from now with roads, when they should be thinking more about the here and now.
“Engineers get involved and they create design expectancies. One thing that doesn’t come into play is the weather in the next 18 to 20 years. Whether the roads get wet for the next five to 10 years, or if they stay dry which are scientist predictions,” said Gouw. “Now we are arguing over what is going to happen 20 years from now, where common sense has to come in somewhere. You guys have to get your stuff together and help out the guys that actually utilize the roads with both parties. You have to look at the future a little bit, but it shouldn’t control what goes on today.”
The M.D. of Taber issued an engineer report from AMEC Foster Wheeler Environment to interested parties, doing a comparison of the relative strength of two roads that were constructed in this area in 2015. One being the 50th Street constructed by the town and the second being Twp Rd 13-0 (south of Vauxhall) constructed by the M.D. of Taber. The town road was constructed using 120mm of asphalt concrete pavement placed on top of 250mm of granular base course material. The M.D. road was constructed using 100mm of asphalt concrete pavement, placed on top of 300mm of granular base course material. The resulting structural numbers using Alberta Transportation Design manual protocols shows the roads are virtually identical.
“The M.D. of Taber has used the 100 ACP/300 GBC formula on many roads that handle significant truck traffic and are performing well” noted an e-mail from AMEC Foster Wheeler Environment.
The M.D. did a 12-hour road count on Twp Rd 13-0, and it showed an average 615 vehicles per day with 226 of these vehicles being single unit trucks (single axle, tandem axle or tri-axle trucks) and 40 trucks baring large tractor trailer units. The balance of the vehicle traffic was passenger vehicles (333), recreational vehicles (12) and buses (4). A closed session after the public meeting was held between Town of Taber and M.D. of Taber councils over proposed improvements to the section of 50th Street in question. It looks like if the proposed $260,000 project to get the road near industrial standard is to go through, the Town of Taber will have to go it alone being the road in question is within town limits.
“The request was for the M.D. to participate in it and it has more to do with it being precedence setting,” said Brewin in an interview with The Times after the closed-door meeting, adding M.D. council has turned down similar requests from the Town of Vauxhall and Village of Barnwell in the past. “We have a fear of doing that because we have numerous municipalities around us that would be waiting in line to do the same thing. We would get counties, municipalities, towns and villages, whatever it is making the same requests (on connector roads). It’s a slippery slope we do not want to go on. We feel we are more than generous with other things we participate in within the town, but this is just something we do not want to cross the line on.”