THUNDER BAY – A decade-long push to direct how cross-country transport traffic passes through the city has cleared another checkpoint.
Making their decision just after midnight early Tuesday morning after hours of discussion and debate, Thunder Bay city council voted to ratify their January decision to approve the development of a designated truck route that would keep heavy traffic off Dawson Road and Arthur Street.
Council would still need to vote on a new bylaw to implement the route.
The vote was won by a narrow 7-6 margin, which included some drama as a pair of councillors reversed course on their previous decision made nearly two months earlier. Coun. Mark Bentz, who initially supported the truck route, flipped to opposition while Coun. Brian Hamilton, who was initially against it, flopped to being in favour.
The proposal recommended by city administration is for a permissive system that would introduce weight restrictions on the sections of Dawson Road and Arthur Streets within city limits, essentially forcing trucks to use the Trans-Canada Highway to enter and exit Thunder Bay.
Statistics provided by administration obtained from a 24-hour traffic count conducted in 2016 by the Ministry of Transportation found that there was an average daily volume of 1,500 trucks on Highway 102 between Sistonen’s Corner and Dog Lake Road, which amounted to 38 per cent of the total traffic. Those vehicles would be rerouted to Highway 11/17 and the extension to Harbour Expressway if the route is implemented.
Collision data from that section of Highway 102 indicated that there was an average of 37.6 vehicles involved in crashes, with 12.2 of them being transports. That rate of 32 per cent is significantly higher than the four per cent of transports involved in crashes on the Thunder Bay Expressway between John Street and the Harbour Expressway.
Coun. Trevor Giertuga, who spent 18 years as the McIntyre ward councillor before switching to an at-large position on this term, has been a driving force trying to steer transports off Dawson Road for most of his municipal political career.
“Many of us campaigned on safety and improving safety in the community. If we can improve safety in any way in any one of our wards and our areas, we would do it,” Giertuga said.
“The numbers and statistics are telling us that this is safer. We can never eliminate all accidents. That’s not possible, but we can reduce them by putting the trucks on a safer corridor.”
Council heard from a number of members of the public, divided between those for and against the designated truck route.
Jim Bailey, who lost his 19-year-old son Dallas in a fatal crash on the Thunder Bay Expressway in October, urged council to lobby the province for advanced warning lights at intersections, reduced speed limits and dividing medians if more truck traffic is going to be added to the highway.
Mayor Bill Mauro, who as a former provincial representative had helped launch design studies for overhauled intersections along the Thunder Bay Expressway between Arthur and Balsam streets, made it clear he has had concerns for a long time about that highway.
“In my heart and my mind, this stretch of roadway was the most dangerous section of roadway within the region of the city of Thunder Bay,” Mauro said. “I have felt consistently that stretch of roadway is not a good stretch of roadway already and does not need more traffic.”
Coun. Aldo Ruberto, who voted in favour, said he would rather the trucks be on the expressway than on Dawson Road or Arthur Street, where school buses pick up children.
“I’m comfortable going on the expressway,” Ruberto said. “I’m comfortable with my family going on the expressway.”
Residents from the seniors' village in Kakabeka Falls expressed concern about increased truck traffic passing through their community, where there are no stop lights or crosswalks along the highway. Oliver Paipoonge, along with a number of other outlying townships, have passed municipal resolutions opposing the route.
While Coun. Brian McKinnon agreed that the truck traffic on Dawson Road is a problem, he disagreed with forcing it to go through communities of the city's close neighbours.
"All we're doing is shoving it off on somebody else. Tell me how fair that is," McKinnon said.
The proposed bylaw is expected to be brought to council in the spring.