An upcoming infrastructure project on Railway Avenue saw design changes made following public engagement, but could possibly be split across two years for completion.
The central phase of the work is planned to begin in 2024 and run from beyond the railway tracks by Elevation Place through the intersections at 10th and Main streets.
The new design that was presented at the committee of the whole May 16 meeting could still see additional changes, but will return to council in the coming months for approval.
The project follows the Town’s 2018 Integrated Transportation Plan, which emphasizes more active modes of transit instead of relying on vehicle traffic, especially in a community with limited land space to develop more driving lanes.
“We must do something to make alternative modes more attractive to allow for some shift in the way people travel or we’re going to risk even worse congestion down the road,” said Andy Esarte, the Town’s manager of engineering.
The public engagement aspect led to changes to intersection modelling, removing the long median for one with breaks to allow more turns and having the crosswalk moved closer to the Elevation Place entrance.
Bus pullouts, which allow buses to pull in without disrupting traffic, were added to each stop and some turn lanes were lengthened, including at the intersections at 10th Street and Main Street for left hand turns.
Adam Robertson, a communication advisor with the Town, said the “continued focus is moving people,” but also acknowledged the divisive nature of the project in the community.
A staff report stated common themes of disagreement on the project from the public were the reduction of a lane adding to extra congestion, changes to the Main and 10th streets intersections, turning left and snow removal.
The staff report stated a common theme heard from public engagement was a “general agreement” with the plan to allow for all modes of transit.
The Railway Avenue project concept was approved by council in 2019, which saw the new intersection built and street improvements completed just past the railway crossing towards Elevation Place.
The intersection redesign became a polarizing topic in the community, with Esarte noting there were “numerous questions and concerns on intersections,” in the public engagement process.
The funding for the central phase was approved in the 2022 budget and the detailed design will return to council for approval later this year.
The report emphasized the project budget is under review due to inflation and increases in labour and construction costs.
A third phase of the project would have the north section of the avenue completed up to 17th Street in the future.
Concerns about lineups after a train were frequently brought up, but Esarte said there’s little the Town can do given groundwater prevents an underpass, while high costs and space prevent construction of an overpass.
“Many people expressed concerns about lineups and congestion due to the CP Rail tracks. There’s not a lot we can do about the CP Rail tracks. The town was founded on the rail line," he said.
"There’s lots of questions of going under, which is a river, and going over is a footprint that takes up an enormous amount of land and it is quite expensive on community impacts and costs.”
Utility work would also take place between Bow Valley Trail and Main Street, which would include the intersection at Main Street and Railway Avenue.
Near-side signals – similar to the ones at intersection at Railway Avenue and Bow Valley Trail – are planned for the two intersections, but not yet confirmed. Esarte said the control box, which allows for signals to better coordinate the flow of traffic, was ordered a year in advance to prevent delays similar to the first phase.
Initial public engagement took place in 2018, while additional feedback was received between 2019-21 and again from Jan. 23 to Feb. 10 this year. There were 378 online submissions and an open in January sought public input.
The staff report added “several lessons learned [from phase one went] into the design and planning of subsequent phases.”
If the design is approved and finished, the street is expected to handle more than 18,000 vehicles a day. The average now is 14,000 a day with a peak of 17,000.
A two-lane stretch past the railway tracks would remain as presented in the conceptual design.
The Town has a goal of reducing vehicle traffic and having more active modes make up at least 40 per cent of non-vehicle traffic at peak times. If achieved, Town staff have estimated Railway Avenue would see about 13,900 vehicles a day.
Town staff have previously said a daily average of 4,000 pedestrians and cyclists go through the intersection at Bow Valley Trail and Railway Avenue in the summer.
Esarte said the division of pedestrians and cyclists from vehicles will also increase safety and avoid conflicts for the different modes of transportation.
“We are building facilities that are connected enough, safe enough, have enough space, are deconflicted where people are going to use them as their functional connection to bicycle and I think we’ve done that in the design,” he said. “If you provide really good facilities and give appropriate width, you reduce that conflict, people will use it.”