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Roundabout near Friday Harbour hits red light at council

'Without the infrastructure for turning lanes ... it seems like a rather expensive project for traffic lights,' councillor says
Rendering of a proposed roundabout at Big Bay Point Road and 25th Sideroad in Innisfil.

A planned roundabout near Friday Harbour Resort has been pushed off into the horizon after cost estimates ballooned.

Innisfil councillors were shocked to see the proposed cost of redeveloping the intersection of Big Bay Point Road and 25th Sideroad to incorporate a roundabout had increased by $3 million since the initial estimate in 2018 of $1.8 million.

“Was it just that the 2018 budget was not done properly?” Coun. Robert Saunders asked. "Because in the five years, I can’t see it going up $3 million.”

It’s slightly more complex than human error, councillors were told.

In the town’s 2018 transportation master plan and development charges background study, the need for intersection improvements at Big Bay Point Road and 25th Sideroad was highlighted and planned for to begin in 2024. That was moved forward to 2021 at the request of Friday Harbour Resort, which was willing to finance the project in exchange for development charge credits, as outlined in the funding agreement for the adjacent fire station.

Throughout the design process, town staff have noted “challenges,” as outlined in the report to council on the matter presented during the Sept. 13 meeting.

Most significant of these "challenges" has been the effect on utility infrastructure in the area, culminating in additional budget for the project being approved by council earlier this year to cover “the significant and unanticipated hydro relocation costs needed in order to accommodate the roundabout.”

But the proposal councillors approved doesn’t commit to a roundabout right away. Rather, interim signalization will be utilized to control traffic in the improved intersection.

“When the original dollar values were put in the transportation master plan by the consultant, they would have been estimated based on what they anticipated around of what a roundabout might look like,” said Andria Leigh, the town's director of planning and growth. “Those values were probably low even at that point in time, but I would add to that there are compounding factors – increased costs for utilities, increased construction, increased consulting fees – all of these have compounded significantly through COVID and we’re seeing that in all our construction projects.”

The staff report outlines “significant" utility relocation (both hydro and Bell), traffic-control and staging costs to accommodate the adjacent fire hall access and response times, land acquisition costs, additional staff time budget needed, as well as higher than budgeted construction and consulting costs due to significant price escalation and inflation that has occurred since 2021 as contributing to the “substantially higher than budgeted estimated costs.”

But utility work on the intersection needs to be complete, roundabout or not. By re-evaluating the project, town staff is convinced that installing traffic signals at Big Bay Point Road and 25th Sideroad can be completed within the constraints of the current budgeted amount.

A roundabout may be a long-term goal, however, under the town’s transportation master plan, the call is for signals or a roundabout, whatever is warranted.

Councillors wanted to ensure whatever money they spent wouldn’t go to waste.

Deputy Mayor Kenneth Fowler sought clarification staff wouldn’t be coming back toward the end of the term to complete the roundabout project. 

Leigh suggested a roundabout at this intersection could actually be decades away. 

Meanwhile, Coun. Alex Waters wanted to make sure the $1.8 million would provide intersection improvements, not just a set of stoplights.

“If we go with signalization, is it just the lights that we’re going to change and the road is going to remain exactly the same?” Waters asked. “I would think that you'd want to be preparing for the 25th Sideroad upgrades and so you end up widening the intersection to accommodate turning uh lanes because right now there are no turning lanes … Is this budget including that upgrade for the intersection itself or is this just we’re going to plunk down four lights around each of the corners and that’s it for $1.8 million?”

Leigh told councillors the town will do as much work as it can regarding intersection improvements, but warned the bulk of the budget – well over half the total – is tied up in utility relocation. The remaining balance, she added, would go toward design and construction.

“Without the infrastructure for turning lanes and that kind of stuff, it seems like a rather expensive project for traffic lights,” Waters said.

Staff’s recommendation to proceed with signalization was supported unanimously.