A plan to build a traffic circle in the middle of Highway 5 through Clearwater at the turnoff to Wells Gray Park has angered surrounding business owners who can think of no other such traffic calming measures on highways from the Alberta border to the coast.
“Why are they experimenting with this in Clearwater? Why not traffic lights, which are tried and true and are everywhere else?” asked Kym Jim, owner of Jim’s Food Market, an intersection mall that includes the Clearwater General Store, an A&W restaurant and a Shell gas station.
On Aug. 25, the municipality announced the plan to build a roundabout that would slow traffic down through Highway 5, addressing pedestrian concerns and serving as a “Northern Gateway to Clearwater and Wells Gray Park.”
Jim’s Food Market manager Jackson Rempel said nine out of 10 businesses surrounding the intersection oppose the plan, believing traffic lights are more appealing for commercial purposes.
“You can blink and you’ll miss our town,” he said. “A stop light will actually let people know that there is a town here.”
Jim said the new traffic pattern could be detrimental to business “because people aren’t going to have a clue how to use them.”
And even if drivers get used to it, some locals are wondering why that intersection was singled out rather than a second highway intersection, which Rempel and Jim say has a worse track record for accidents and fatalities.
“What we’re asking council and the ministry is to re-evaluate this to be more informative to citizens of Clearwater and to come up with a comprehensive plan that addresses all of the issues in a meaningful way that is complete,” said Jim.
Residents are also criticizing the lack of public discussion in the run-up to the Aug. 25 announcement to build the roundabout.
Jim is holding a public meeting Thursday night to talk about concerns over the plan. He said two information sessions held by Clearwater council and the Ministry of Transportation on March 7 fell short of the public consultation that should have taken place.
“I don’t think anyone thought that was adequate or particularly informing of the plans,” said Jim. “Next thing you know a roundabout has been announced that it’s happening.”
Clearwater acting mayor Jon Kreke said the roundabout was chosen after the Ministry of Transportation told the municipality that the province no longer places new traffic lights on numbered highways.
“That’s what we’ve been led to believe,” said Kreke. “So what is the best option? This is the best option.”
Calls to the Ministry of Transportation were not immediately answered on Wednesday.
Kreke said the roundabout is designed to accommodate all vehicles, including commercial haulers with long loads, wide loads or heavy loads.
The choice of intersection arose because the bulk of pedestrian traffic uses that section, said Kreke. It serves as a corridor between Jim’s Food Market and Clearwater High School on the other side.
As to the speed of the decision, Kreke said the town’s council members were just as surprised as everyone else when the ministry green-lighted the project. During the meetings in March, council members believed the project was years away.
The meetings resulted in 144 residents voting to support the roundabout with a majority of 67 per cent, he said.
Kreke said he’s aware of the public meeting being held at Clearwater Lodge at 7 p.m. and plans to be there.