Traffic lights approved for problematic Blyth intersection
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Huron County is moving ahead with a proposal to install traffic lights at the problematic intersection of Blyth and London Roads in the south end of Blyth.
The cost of installing traffic lights at the intersection is estimated at $2,191,000, which includes detailed design and consulting fees at $230,000 and just under $2 million for construction and maintenance contracts. The other proposed option, a roundabout, could have cost the county $2,749,000 for a single-lane roundabout or $3,764,000 for two lanes.
This comes after a Huron County Council decision last year to further investigate traffic solutions at the aforementioned Blyth intersection and the intersection of County Road 83 and Airport Line, just west of Exeter. Part of the decision was the splitting of the engineering and the detailed design, so, after the engineering was awarded to B.M. Ross and Associates earlier this year and the preferred option has been identified for the Blyth intersection, the county will go ahead with the detailed design of the intersection, incorporating traffic lights. The project will then be included in the 2022 budget for consideration.
Lisa Courtney and Darren Alexander from B.M. Ross presented their report to Huron County Council at council’s Nov. 17 meeting. They said they considered three options as possibilities: installing traffic lights, installing a roundabout or leaving the intersection status quo, while the option of a four-way stop or other additional traffic-calming measures (such as larger stop signs or rumble strips, which have already been incorporated) were not considered viable options.
The preferred option presented by B.M. Ross is the installation of radar-activated traffic lights to control movement through the intersection. This option would also include dedicated turning lanes on all four sides of the intersection and mountable curbs to allow large trucks and agricultural equipment to turn (one situation specifically cited is fuel trucks accessing the Ultramar gas station, coming from the east).
This option would include painted crosswalks and the engineers have recommended the inclusion of accessible pedestrian signals, but they were not officially included in the recommendation.
“With this alternative, all of the existing buried infrastructure will remain in place. To address the profile of the intersection, it is anticipated that fill will be brought in to improve the grade. To accommodate the widening required for the left turn lanes, the ditches around the intersection will be regraded and storm sewers incorporated where space is limited,” Courtney and Alexander said in their report to council. “There will be a need with this option to remove all existing lighting and bring the lighting up to design standards. Traffic signal poles and light standards will need to be located at a far enough setback to allow for oversized farm equipment to navigate the intersection.”
The roundabout option would require using much more land, Courtney and Alexander said, and, in the case of a two-lane roundabout, the acquisition of private land. Accommodating large trucks and bigger pieces of agricultural machinery was a concern from the beginning with a roundabout, with a mountable apron and curbs proposed for the one-lane option for these larger vehicles. A two-lane roundabout would allow them to safely move through, but would require much more land and significant grading.
As far as retaining the status quo, Huron County Engineer Steve Lund said that wasn’t really an option. While the collision data from the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) showed 13 collisions in the last five years, he said the traffic volume during peak hours called for action on the county’s part, rather than excessive collision risk.
He also noted that, according to the OPP, most of the collisions recorded could not be attributed to the intersection itself. Seven of the 13 collisions were the result of a driver failing to yield, while two were due to drivers disobeying traffic control and two could be chalked up to an inattentive driver. The two remaining collisions were attributed to speeding and following too closely.
Lund said that the OPP noted that none of the collisions reported from 2016 to 2021 were of a turning nature and that there are three intersections in the county with a higher collision rate during that same period.
Courtney also noted a number of factors that have made the intersection troublesome over the years, including its unique alignment, people speeding in both directions on London Road and a high volume of both truck and agricultural equipment traffic.
North Huron Reeve Bernie Bailey commended the report, saying it was clear now that doing nothing was not an option for the county. He, however, diverged from the recommendation, saying he felt a roundabout would be the superior option for environmental reasons. A roundabout would leave fewer vehicles idling at stop lights and keep them moving throughout. However, he would change his mind over the course of the discussion, eventually moving the motion to approve the traffic lights option.
Central Huron Mayor Jim Ginn, who has been critical of the decision to take action at the Blyth intersection in the past, said he was still in favour of leaving things the way they are. He cited his own experience in roundabouts in the Kitchener area, saying they are not nearly as safe as the reports have made them sound.
Furthermore, as someone who has come through that intersection with large agricultural loads over the years, he said it would be very difficult to get a truck moving again after a dead stop, especially in the winter, due to the drastic slope there. He said he felt that, if the traffic lights were to go ahead, more significant grading would be necessary.
He also said he felt this would be a precedent-setting decision by council in that municipalities with problematic intersections would begin flooding council with requests for traffic lights or roundabouts, all with price tags of between $2 million and $4 million. Huron East Mayor Bernie MacLellan also voiced his concern with the potential setting of a precedent.
Lund reiterated his point, as several councillors pointed to the collision data, that traffic counts at the intersection alone are cause for action by the county, not even factoring in collision data.
Huron East Deputy-Mayor Bob Fisher, however, pointed to the data that the region, specifically in the Blyth area and that intersection serving as a gateway to the Lake Huron coast, saying it’s growing and will only continue to do so. He said council should act now, and not leave it as is for several years, only to take action too late.
South Huron Mayor George Finch, a former OPP officer, agreed, saying the data would not show near-misses at the intersection, of which there could have been hundreds. He said he didn’t want to play “Russian Roulette” with the intersection, waiting for a major incident to occur on the county’s watch and implored council to take action.
Council voted in favour of the recommendation to install traffic lights at the intersection, moving to the next step to issue a request for proposals (RFP) for design and to have the project included for consideration in the county’s 2022 budget.