SOUTHERN ALBERTA NEWSPAPERS
A move to reduce the speed limit on gravel roads in the County of Lethbridge from 80 kilometres per hour to 60 is a topic of hot debate.
While county council did approve first reading of Bylaw 1394 Thursday, an amendment to Traffic Control Bylaw 1151, it has not been determined when it will consider second and third reading which would then put the speed reduction into affect. The motion to approve first reading of the bylaw was done prior to a presentation later in the meeting by a group of local agriculture businessmen.
"The intent of this was the preservation of infrastructure," said Reeve Lorne Hickey to the group of men gathered to speak against the speed reduction.
Kevin Paskal, in a presentation to council, said dropping the speed limit was not going to solve the problem. In a letter to council, Rick Paskal said he made an attempt over a two-week period to drive on several county gravel roads. He noted there are "definitely challenges" with maintaining the road infrastructure.
"I noticed inconsistent grading standards," he said in his email to council.
He questioned whether the county grader operators are trained properly, if the proper processes and procedures are in place and if their performance is audited. He said he was under the impression the current speed on county gravel roads was 100 kilometres per hour. He proposed the county post the 80 speed limit on the major county gravel haul roads. He also suggested during the spring thaw the speed for large trucks be reduced, adding to slow all cars and trucks down to 60 was not necessary. He also spoke to the profitability issue businesses in the county will face if they have to reduce their speed, thus adding to the cost of hauling product in and out of the region.
In addition to the impact on the road infrastructure, Hickey also noted the county deals with a lot of complaints about dust hanging in the air and impacting visibility on county gravel roads.
"This is about the whole county, not just one industry," said Hickey when the debate appeared to focus on the intensive livestock industry.
He said the county needs to protect the infrastructure and make it safe for everyone who use the roads. He noted the county felt a speed reduction on gravel roads from 80 down to 60 would help.
Kevin Viergutz, director of municipal services, said the county has 184 kilometres of haul routes designated for heavy truck traffic. This equates to 111 miles and at $1 million a mile to upgrade to paved road standard, it would take $111 million for the county to upgrade just the haul routes. Even to upgrade to a base stabilization and chip seal standard it would cost about $250,000 a mile, or $28 million.
"We can't ever consider upgrading the remainder of the road network," he said.
John Vander Heyden Jr. also addressed council and said spring is when the roads get damaged most, and he couldn't see the benefit of reducing the speed across the county on all the gravel roads year round. He also questioned if reducing the speed by 20 kilometres will impact the dust. He said once a vehicle is traveling at 30 the dust starts moving. Vander Heyden Jr. also suggested the county look at increasing enforcement of the current speed limit rather than reducing it further, and also questioned if there is scientific proof the speed reduction will protect the roads.
Cor Van Raay addressed the meeting and said the speed reduction will be making criminals of 99 per cent of the drivers on the county roads, because no one is going to slow down to 60. He added the county is responsible for the roads and needs to do a better job of hiring people to work in for the county.
"You're not doing a good job. You want to change the roads to cover up," said Van Raay. "Everything comes from the top."
Dave Shaw with Palliser Regional Schools, said at 60 kilometres per hour, the school buses will be "sitting ducks." He said if the county reduces the speed to 60 he will have to instruct his bus drivers to slow down and if they do so, they will be passed by other drivers, increasing the danger to school children getting on and off the buses. From a safety aspect, Shaw said he already replaces enough windshields and anticipates that cost will also rise if the speed limit is dropped and buses are the only ones slowing.
"I'm all for discussing it," he said in suggesting the county should take a step back. "Safety is going to be an issue."