Debate heats up over gravel road speed limit

Written by Kathy Bly
Wednesday, 13 March 2013 23:09
A move to reduce the speed limit on gravel roads in the County of Lethbridge from 80 km/h to 60 km/h was a topic of debate at last Thursday’s council meeting.
While county council did approve first reading of Bylaw 1394, 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 km/h. He proposed the county post the 80 km/h 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, Reeve Hickey also noted the county deals with a lot of complaints about dust hanging in the air and impacting visibility on county gravel roads.
“Even truck drivers have a problem seeing in the dust.”
Kevin Paskal also questioned the training of grader operators and the need for a consistent approach to road maintenance across the county.
“This is about the whole county, not just one industry,” said Reeve Hickey when the debate appeared to focus on the intensive livestock industry.
“We’re trying to find a solution,” said Coun. Morris Zeinstra.
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 km/h would help.
Kevin Viergutz, director of municipal services, said the county has 184 km 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.
Given the impact of weather on county roads, Zeinstra said the county can’t be on every road, every time the moisture hits.
He welcomed the idea of sitting down with businesses in the county, a suggestion made by Kevin Paskal to bring the county and the businesses together to discuss the issue and seek other solutions.
“We’re strongly opposed to it,” Paskal said of the speed reduction.
John Vander Heyden Jr. also addressed council on the issue 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 km/h will impact the dust. He said once a vehicle is traveling at 30 km/h the dust starts moving.
He admitted he doesn’t adhere to the current 80 km/h speed limit and doesn’t see how reducing it further will impact driving.
“I realize it’s wrong,” he said of his speeding.
He suggested the county should look at increasing enforcement of the current speed limit rather than reducing it further.
“I would hope there is a better solution then what we’re suggesting here.”
He also questioned if there is scientific proof the speed reduction will protect the roads. He also suggested the county should consider a tax rate increase in order to provide additional funding for road maintenance.
Reeve Hickey said the farm rate for taxation has not risen in 20 years and the county has no means of increasing revenue to maintain and improve roads anymore than it already does. The county has lobbied the government for a change in the funding formula under the Municipal Sustainability Initiative in order to direct more funds to roads but so far nothing has changed.
“We’re in a hard spot too,” he said.
Vander Heyden said at the end of the day it is going to cost the taxpayers either way, through increased taxes or through the loss of business if trucks have to slow down to 60 km/h.
“Somewhere along the line we have to find something that works for everybody,” said Hickey.
Cor Van Raay also 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 km/h.
“That makes criminals of us all.”
He said 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. You guys are going to have to do a better job. Don’t change it to 60 km/h.”
Dave Shaw with Palliser Regional Schools, also addressed council and said at 60 km/h the school buses will be “sitting ducks”.
“The 80 km/h is not followed.”
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 the buses are the only ones slowing down.
“I’m all for discussing it,” he said in suggesting the county should take a step back on the issue to collect more input from those impacted by the speed reduction.
“Safety is going to be an issue.”
Darren Van Raay also suggested the most damage done to the roads comes in the spring and usually the roads conditions are self-regulating. Once the roads become soft, drivers have no choice but to slow down.
He also questioned the science behind the 20 km/h speed reduction and asked if the county could consider options for reducing costs for grading instead.
By the end of last week’s council meeting, the county had not set a date for future discussion of the bylaw, including second and third reading.