Deep River Mayor David Thompson offers critical feedback to the Ministry of Transportation delegation at Renfrew County council.
Steve Newman, Renfrew Mercury
The Ministry of Transportation (MTO) delegation consumed about 90 minutes of Renfrew County council’s meeting Oct. 31, but it only took a few minutes for Deep River Mayor David Thompson to express many county councillors’ sense of frustration about Highway 17 expansion and maintenance.
Several county councillors pressed the MTO delegation for answers, including the desire to know when Phase 2 of Highway 417 expansion might proceed. Phase 1, which runs 5.3 kilometres, up to Campbell Drive (just west of Arnprior), is expected to be completed this month.
But first Thompson caught everyone’s attention with his remarks.
He reminded the delegation that he was headed to a funeral in a few days for the sixth Deep River resident that has died in a Highway 17 vehicular accident in the past few years.
After thanking the MTO staff for an earlier visit to the Town of Deep River last April, he says follow-up from that meeting was conspicuously absent for several months.
He said the MTO also needs to address safety issues, and the sooner the better.
He cited two specific examples. One is the sudden end of a second Hwy. 17 lane, about 50 metres before the intersection at Ridge Road. This, he said, often results in large vehicles jockeying for the remaining lane with pedestrians often nearby.
“I can tell you that is an incredibly unsafe situation that needs to be rectified,” said Thompson.
The second example is a false left-turn lane into Tim Hortons.
Thompson called it “a bit of a teaser lane. It’s a left-turn lane into the (adjacent) Canadian Tire. Any visitor, of course, puts on their left blinker without looking in their rearview mirror. I can tell you, and our traffic statistics and local OPP will tell you, how many collisions happen there.
“When you have a transport behind you and you think you’re in a turning lane and you’re not, this is great cause of concern.”
The mayor also commented on MTO’s six-month delay regarding a visit last spring. He called the delay and eventual reply in late October unacceptable. The Ministry of Transportation, said the correspondence, does not have any plans to rehabilitate Highway 17 through the Town of Deep River.
While he recognized the MTO’s classification of roads as Class 1, 2 or 3, he stressed, “The residents of Renfrew County are not second class (the same class that Highway 17 is given through Deep River). We are all the same, whether we live in Deep River, Toronto or Kingston.
“My guess is that when you travelled up here, you travelled on Highway 41. If you had travelled up on Highway 417, you would have seen the crosses and you would have the wreaths, and you would have seen the memorials that litter Highway 17.”
He reminded the delegation that the weekend funeral he planned to attend was for a local resident, whose daughter is a classmate of his son’s.
“This is the sixth funeral I have attended in the last two years of my residents in a small town (because of a Highway 17 accident). They’re not bad drivers. There is something fundamentally wrong with this highway, and we cannot let this exist.”
He concluded that the maintenance provided by a North Bay-based company was abysmal. He also recognized MTO’s presentation that indicated that maintenance standards will increase for the winter of 2013-14, but that staff “be ever diligent this year so we can limit our fatalities.”
In responding, MTO regional director Kathy Moore said these types of concerns are why the MTO is sitting down with the OPP to determine how the highway can be made safer.
She said Thompson’s concerns would also be reiterated with the maintenance contractor for the Deep River section of Highway 17.
More questions followed from county councillors, including several about when Phase 2 and 3 of Highway 417 might result in the four-laning of the remaining 22 kilometres between Arnprior and Renfrew.
MTO officials told county council that Highway 417 expansion is its highest priority, but that it still isn’t part of the province’s current five-year capital works plan.
MTO said in its presentation that it has coordinated more than $250 million in highway improvements in Renfrew County since 2003.
This work includes 37 of Renfrew County’s 77 bridges or large culverts, while future projects include Petawawa River bridge rehab, Hwy. 60 to Hwy. 17 resurfacing, and the replacement of Constant Creek Bridge on Hwy. 132.