By Trevor Busch
After months of deliberation and deferrals by town council, pedestrians walking to Taber’s southeast retail development should now have a sidewalk in place on 46th Avenue by the end of 2016.
At their Oct. 13 meeting, town council voted 3-2 to direct administration to construct a sidewalk (with proposed additional street lighting) along the south side of 46th Avenue from the intersection of Barton Drive to the east side of Lot C, Block 7552 JK (vet clinic) within the 2016 construction season, and that council further directs administration to work closely with the businesses that will be affected to ensure that there is minimal disruption to their business activities. Coun.(s) Joe Strojwas and Andrew Prokop opposed the motion, while Coun.(s) Jack Brewin and Rick Popadynetz were absent.
“All of the businesses understand the need for pedestrian safety,” said public works director Gary Scherer, prior to the vote. “They understand there has to be a place for pedestrians to walk. I think we’ve done our due diligence here in talking to the businesses.”
During 2013 budget deliberations, council had requested a sidewalk for pedestrians be constructed along 46th Avenue, which was added to the 2014 asphalt and concrete replacement tender, but went uncompleted at that time due to objections surrounding the proposed orientation of the sidewalk in front of several local businesses.
Businesses in the area (Potato Growers of Alberta, Horizon Implements, Fitch Tire, Buffalo Head Veterinary Clinic, and Boston Pizza) assembled as a delegation at the June 23, 2014 council meeting, detailing their objections to the construction of a sidewalk on the south side of 46th Avenue. On July 11, 2014, public works held a meeting with business owners in the area to discuss those concerns, including the exit and egress of customers and suppliers potentially being impeded by pedestrian traffic, and danger to pedestrians due to the area being heavy traffic and high volume. Instances of vandalism were also reported, and it was suggested that proper lighting could help rectify this issue. Business representatives were also unsure of property boundary lines, and were concerned if a sidewalk would encroach on these boundaries.
“I have some difficulty with this, because I don’t know the distance exactly,” said Coun. Andrew Prokop, commenting on the currently proposed terminus point for the sidewalk. “We’re talking about the safety aspect here, but we’re only going so far, to the Buffalo Head Veterinary Clinic, but pedestrians are going a lot further than that. I’m just saying, the next question is going to be, to me, what’s the next stage and when is that going to be done, and who is going to be responsible? Is the Town of Taber responsible?”
At the July 21 council meeting, the 46th Avenue Sidewalk Project was tabled until the completion of a Stormwater Master Plan, was brought back for review and discussion on Aug. 17, at which point council requested additional information from various stakeholders and Alberta Environment. Following the Sept. 14 council meeting, the item was tabled for a further month for discussion.
“I kind of agree with Councillor Prokop. We’re putting them on a sidewalk, and then all the sudden we’re putting them back on the road,” said Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux, also commenting on the current length of the sidewalk project. “I thought at one point we had thought about extending a sidewalk to BP (Boston Pizza) property. Right now, we’re only taking them so far and then we’re putting them back on the road again. That kind of defeats the whole safety aspect of it.”
Commenting on the potential extension of the sidewalk project, Prokop indicated it had been discussed by council in the past.
“I think it was discussed, and the businesses out there even suggested going further to Tim Hortons. But then again, they weren’t committing to any funding for that. That’s my biggest concern, in all fairness. I don’t know that should be the responsibility, solely, of the Town of Taber, to complete that project.”
A temporary solution could present an option for extension of the project for pedestrians.
“I kind of like the idea of just extending that last part with just some gravel temporarily,” said Mayor Henk DeVlieger. “Don’t go with a concrete sidewalk, and then five years later we rip half of it out because a developer needs to go in there.”
Placing a sidewalk on the north side of 46th Avenue along the existing drainage ditch was investigated by administration, but was determined to be a less than attractive option, considering drainage issues, required permission from Alberta Transportation, and driving construction costs above the budget which had been established by the town.
According to administration, the cost of constructing a sidewalk on the north side of 46th Avenue would have been double the estimated cost of a south side construction.
Also considered was the possibility of creating a one-way street, but was determined to be unfeasible as it would create more traffic at the Highway 3 and Highway 36 intersection, among other issues. Another solution proposed was a foot bridge across the the railway tracks and Highway 3, but was largely dismissed as it would require Alberta Transportation’s approval and involvement, as well as being considered prohibitively expensive. The intersection of Highway 3 and Highway 36 currently has no pedestrian crossing signs, and was never built with anticipation of pedestrian traffic.
Locating a path to the south of the current business properties was also considered to be an unattractive option for the town, as this would require the purchase of land from two different owners, as well as the addition of currently non-existent street lighting.
Public works has installed a new catchbasin and pipe for drainage purposes at the west side of Lot 5, Block 1, Plan 0310358 (Fitch Tire), as previously directed by council.
Prokop continued to advocate for the contribution of area businesses to any further sidewalk extensions proposed by the town in future.
“If you look at the whole aspect of this scenario, and the safety concern has been the number one key to all this, but really putting in a sidewalk is also of major benefit to all of those businesses. My point in all of this is I don’t understand why the businesses don’t have to kick in for the cost of all this. To me, it’s just not completely fair for the town to be responsible to complete this project.”
Ross-Giroux began to suggest area businesses might voluntarily contribute to a future project, but quickly re-assessed that proposition.
“Perhaps once we get this portion built, they might get enough complaints from their customers, they might think twice. No? I know I’m dreaming. But I do think we need to get moving on all this.”