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  • ESSEX FREE PRESS

Council hosts virtual Infrastructure Roundtable

- Highway # 3 widening related projects, service expansion,

and potential sidewalks discussed -

by Sylene Argent

Essex Council hosted a virtual, roundtable discussion on infrastructure last Tuesday evening, where Council members spoke on a variety of issues, including Highway # 3, sidewalks, and the expansion of services to accommodate potential industrial additions.

  When speaking of the expansion of services of the south-side of Highway # 3, Mayor Larry Snively said with the planned widening of Highway # 3 and with industrial growth being full on the northside of the throughfare, services are now heading across the highway.

  Kevin Girard, Director of Infrastructure Services, said the expansion of services is well underway. The addendum to the Environmental Study Report includes the sanitary sewer service area, which is underway with Stantec Consulting. This will allow the Town to proceed with the project, including checking capacity to bring sanitary sewers to those developable lands, south of Highway # 3.

  The watermain project was also brought to Council recently. This includes the Town working with the design builders of the Highway # 3 expansion project, Dillon Consulting and Coco Paving Inc., to extend a watermain across the highway, at the 14th Concession, to allow any potential developers in the future to connect.

  “We have a strong ability to get to where we need to service all those properties on the other side of the Highway, we are well underway with that. We will be is a position soon, when developers approach us to start building on that side of the Highway, we will be able to provide service there,” Girard said.

  Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche asked about gas lines and wondered if that should be looked into as the expansion of the highway takes place, as well. Girard said he will contact local companies to confirm location of gas lines in the area.

  Council also discussed the long thought about possibility of adding sidewalks by the Canadian Tire and Tim Hortons on Maidstone Avenue, from Talbot. Councillor Morley Bowman said the issue has come about numerous times over the years. With development continuing to go on in that area, he thinks it is a good idea to discuss the potential project again.

  Girard said the Town is working with the developer of the Essex Town Centre lands. Some provisions have been made to connect to a future multi-trail path on Maidstone Avenue. “It is something on our radar,” he said. “Ultimately, it is truly a budget decision.” It could be included on a wish list in the 2022 budget, so staff can develop a cost-estimate, he added.

  Councillor Chris Vander Doelen wondered if there would be a way to get the potential sidewalk project done in phases to get it off the ground. Girard said that is something he has been thinking on.

  Councillor Steve Bjorkman said this project has been on the wish list since 2015, and Council should be putting funds aside for it.

  Girard added the Town is working with the MTO for South Talbot Road, which will have connection brought all the way to Victoria Avenue as part of the Highway # 3 widening project, in accordance with the future closure of Victoria Avenue to Highway # 3. The Town is working with the MTO to try to get a multi-use pathway from Victoria Avenue to Maidstone Avenue.

  In terms of sidewalk completion for the Bell Avenue/Thomas Street/Brock Street area, Garon said they are roads close to the main corridor. He said he can see how they could be needed with the high school nearby.

  Girard said the Town has limited funding for new sidewalks. They come from a resolution from Council. The main focus has been to maintain existing sidewalks. Funding, however, can be evaluated. If it is a Council priority, it can be added to the budget wish list for 2022.

  Girard warned Council that capital decisions do come with operational impacts, including snow removal and maintenance, but is happy to follow through on Council’s wishes

Councillor Sherry Bondy said she wants Council to do a good job with public consultation when it comes to potentially adding sidewalks, as some want them and some do not.

  CAO Chris Nepszy said sidewalk inspections take place yearly within the Town of Essex. Girard added if Council wants to increase that level of service, the budget for that can be elevated during budget time.

  Bowman said sidewalks are put in for safety. Some may want them and others may not. That will always be the case. Council needs to determine whether or not there is a safety issue, and that should be the determining factor.

  Council also discussed a traffic flow report, assuming Victoria Avenue will be closed for access at Highway # 3.

  Councillor Joe Garon said when the access to Highway # 3 at Victoria gets shutdown, an extreme amount of pressure will be put on some of the other roads and intersections. There are plans to add the Hanlan Street extension and other ways to handle that change in traffic flow. He hopes there will be a good plan for traffic flow coming forward.

  Girard said there are a lot of thing happening in the town, some will impact the area because of the highway. With the closure of Victoria to Highway # 3, he added, there are two means of getting the traffic onto the highway, including South Talbot Road and the Hanlan Street extension. The initial phase of that closure will include building South Talbot. Eventually, the road will be reconstructed and linked it up on the other side of the Greenway. The other alterative route will connect Fairview Avenue with Gosfield Townline.

  The closure of Victoria Avenue to Highway # 3, he said, will happen in the next phase of construction, where they will need to start working on the overpass structure that goes over Victoria Avenue. Included in that first-phase on construction, is the realignment of Pinkerton Sideroad and other improvements at the Maidstone Avenue intersection.

  Meloche had concerns with the Hanlan Road extension, and wondered about guarantees the Province will contribute to that project as is planned. The North Malden closure to Highway #3 is going to be a real pain for Ward 2 residents, he said.

  Girard responded that there is an agreement with the MTO for that and he has been working with the MTO to secure the funds. The agreement states the cost has to be agreed upon, which is being worked on now.

  Nepszy said the MTO funding is for an asphalt-base and open ditches.  

  When it comes to private beach roads, Mayor Larry Snively said he is not in favour of taking over beach roads as it is costly.

  Nepszy said this matter has been around for many years. There are three different types of beach roads: owned and assumed roads (municipal roads), owned but not assumed roads (roads that have somehow come under the Municipality’s ownership), and private roads.

  A couple Terms of Council ago, the rules changed on what can be done on an un-assumed road without assuming it. He said at that time, the Council of the day decided to provide a minimal level of service on the unassumed but owned beach roads, including some grading and winter control.

  Nepszy said he has had discussion with Council over the years, on where does the Town go from here.

  The challenge, Bondy said, is the Town used to have a roads plan, she said she is not crazy about how the roads are lumped together for the budget deliberations now.

  Meloche said if residents on beach roads are willing to put money into it for the Town to take it over, then he does not have a problem taking it over. Before the road is paved, he would like a traffic count to see if it should be.

  Vander Doelen said an effort has to be made to bring some of the roads into town ownership. He thinks the town would benefit, as if they were better taken care of, property values would rise and so would tax roles. He said there should be a process for the beach roads, and that it would be nice to get a few done every year.

  Based on the conversation had, Nepszy said he has a better direction on how to have a codified response to add to Council’s Strategic Plan by the end of the term in terms of how to handle beach roads. 

  Vander Doelen said he thinks Council needs to be more formal when putting together a priority list that puts partisan ward concerns aside in regards to infrastructure projects. This could be somewhat flexible.

  Girard said there are complications to coming up with a priority list for roads. There can be backlash, as they are ever so changing. He said the Town is aware of road conditions within the municipality. The way the Town is addressing the matter is by reviewing infrastructure, including what is underground, and keeping the ward system in mind.

  Bondy suggested hosting a roads open house meeting to handle the issue. She would love to have a five-year roads plan, but thinks a meeting would be great to communicate why certain roads are getting done, realizing priorities are always changing.

  Nepszy said those discussions are provided to Council through the budget process.

  Bjorkman said he thinks, “It is time to take the roads out of Council’s hands.” He said it is a political thing Council cannot get away from. He said it is Council’s job to ensure there is enough money in the budget to get the roads done, they know which roads are a priority. He said more money is needed for roads. He has no problem with having a schedule dedicated to road needs.

  Nepszy said road plans have failed in the past.

  Meloche disagreed with Bjorkman. He said Council has to debate them. Constituents want them to debate the issue, and other matters. He believes there should be a roads plan. Items change because it is a forecast. He said the plan in the past went out too far. It should stick to a Term of Council. Then, Council negotiates what needs to be done, and handles issues as they come up.

  Garon said the growth the town is experiencing should help in the future with adding more to the tax base.     

  Vander Doelen also disagreed with Bjorkman. He suggested instead of calling it a roads plan, call it a needs list.

  Discussion also included upgrading the Erie Street/King Street intersection in Harrow. Councillor Sherry Bondy said this has been a corner where residents have claimed to witness multiple accidents. It can also be hard to turn at during some points of the day, when there is heavier traffic. Residents want the intersection improved, she said.

  Girard noted the intersection was evaluated as part of the Harrow Streetscape project. The Town will remove a piece of curb at the southwest corner of the intersection and align it to provide more space. In addition, a conduit will be put under the road to accommodate a traffic signal, if it is ever required in the future. A tapering is also being added to the south-east corner, to provide more turning space for vehicles heading right.

  On King Street, the parking will be changed from the north side to the south-side of the road. This will come to Council to change the Parking Bylaw as an amendment. A push-button pedestrian crossing is also being installed as part of the project.

  Councillor Bjorkman said he likes the improvements Girard laid out, but believes the corner should be looked at from a tourist point of view, as many not familiar with the area may be visiting and may not know a cross walk will be there. He thinks traffic signals and a turning lane are needed. If needing to turn left from Erie Street, there could be many waiting for quite some time.

  Vander Doelen said the tweaks to the intersection are good, but thinks the intersection will need to be rebuilt in the future. He thinks it is not as bad of an intersection as Maidstone Avenue and Talbot Street in Essex Centre.

  Council will host a similar meeting on development services in the future, and will host another on infrastructure to cover subjects that were not discussed at this meeting, due to timing.

  Council received the report.