THUNDER BAY – City council has paved the way for the Ministry of Transportation to use municipal roadways to detour traffic during next year’s nighttime closures of Highway 61.
The province’s plan to route vehicles down Neebing and Broadway avenues while closing the highway nightly at the Thunder Bay International Airport intersection to Broadway Avenue was backed by a resolution passed by council at Monday evening’s meeting.
Without council approval to use city streets, the ministry would have been forced to post a detour of Highway 130 and Highway 11/17.
Ministry spokesman Beau Little said even if the signed detour included only the provincial highway network, there would be nothing stopping traffic from taking a different route.
“We feel that’s the likely route people are going to take. That’s where all our traffic modelling is showing,” Little said of drivers using Neebing Avenue.
“We don’t want to have to go down the route of posting a signed detour on Highway 130 knowing that very few people are going to use that.”
Repair work on four spans – the Canadian Pacific Railway overpass, Rosslyn Road Bridge and the two Canadian National Railway overpasses – has been deemed necessary with the province electing to tackle all four structures within the same year. Construction work would be expected to begin in the spring with a targeted completion of October.
“Our current timeline, we’re looking at anywhere from five to six months,” Little said.
“Part of the reason we’re looking at doing all four structures concurrently is all four rehabs lend themselves to being done concurrently. We would be looking to mitigate that through one construction season rather than multiple construction seasons.”
The ministry examined several detour options before identifying the preferred direction of keeping the roadway open in both directions with a 50 kilometre per hour speed limit at the construction sites during the day before closing the highway between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. nightly.
Little said traffic modelling on Neebing Avenue during the first hour of closure would have similar volumes to the roadway’s peak traffic flow during the afternoon.
“Once it gets to about 10 p.m. it certainly falls off significantly,” Little said. “If we were to find that first hour, say from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., was a conflict point we can certainly tailor that back to say a 9:30 p.m. start or a 10 p.m. start.”
Both Thunder Bay police and the OPP would assist in closing the road during the first month of work with city police increasing their presence along the detour route, Little added.
Feedback received a public information centre held earlier this month included 125 comments, with 87 of those respondents in favour of the nighttime construction.
Under the Highway Traffic Act, the ministry is obliged to restore a municipal roadway used as part of a detour from a provincial highway to as good or better condition than prior to the increased traffic.
Little said a video log of the roadway would be recorded prior to the detour and that would be used to help determine the extent of work that would be done afterwards.
“The idea behind that is we want to make sure we have a record of what was there before and again, we’re not looking to return something in a state of disrepair,” Little said. “We’re also not in the business of making improvements just because we’re there.”
Little said ministry staff had previously attended a Fort William First Nation chief and council meeting and have reached out to attempt to schedule a further information session.