Willis Road a safety threat, say Palmer Place staff

Campbell River's Willis and Petersen Roads are a hot topic of discussion at city hall lately

Willis road has become so dangerous that vulnerable residents living in a Nikola Road affordable housing complex are being put in “jeopardy”, says one support worker.

Michelle Albrecht, a program coordinator at Palmer Place, just off Willis Road, told council Tuesday night how serious the situation has become.

“The individuals living at Palmer Place have safe, supportive housing,” she said. “Their safety is in jeopardy the minute they step out their door and onto the roadway. It is morally irresponsible to continue to ignore the problem. City council has a moral responsibility to its citizens.”

Albrecht said Palmer Place residents depend on public transit to get around and the closest bus stop is at the corner of Petersen and Willis, “a long walk along a narrow, busy and dangerous road, bordered by steep and deep ditches.”

Albrecht said she recently witnessed a mother trying to push her young child in a stroller along the narrow pathway, filled with potholes and bordered by a deep ditch, while trying to hold onto her young son to keep him from running out onto the roadway. On the other side of street, she observed two Palmer Place residents trying to get out of the way of a large recreational vehicle; one of them slipping into a ditch trying to avoid the vehicle.

“This is just a small snapshot of a very dangerous situation, one that is only going to get worse as the days shorten and the weather turns,” Albrecht said. “This is a tragedy waiting to happen.”

The two incidents highlight why Coun. Ron Kerr has been pressing for the city to build a walking and cycling path along Willis and Petersen Roads.

Kerr took up his crusade again at Tuesday night’s council meeting, putting forward a motion to direct staff to provide council with a design for the walkway and a design cost estimate, with a separate estimate for a crushed rock pathway and a paved walkway.

“As I said before, doing nothing is not an option,” Kerr said. “I believe the sooner the safety issue is taken care of, the better. To me, I see it everyday and it’s something we have to address. This is an attempt to do it in a conservative matter, not throwing millions at the project, not building roads.”

Kerr wants a pathway built before winter sets in, and the conditions take a turn for the worse. He has suggested council start the project using funding from this year’s budget and leave the more expensive areas for the 2013 budget.

But Ron Neufeld, the city’s general manager of operations, confirmed Tuesday night that there is no money in the 2012 budget for a detailed design – the first step of the project.

Coun. Larry Samson disagreed.

“I’d like to go ahead with this,” he said.

“We know we always have millions of dollars in carry forwards for 2012/2013. I think there is money in the budget we can reallocate. I think with the condition Willis Road is in, we do have to look at Willis Road for the safety of those residents on that connector.”

Coun. Claire Moglove said she couldn’t support Kerr’s motion knowing the city’s financial position.

“We don’t have anything in the 2012 budget to do this,” she said. “I appreciate Coun. Kerr wanting to move ahead with this project but I can’t approve going ahead with the motion as written when I don’t know what it’s going to cost to do it.”

Neufeld said he estimates the project would cost around half a million dollars, with the design portion being roughly eight to 10 per cent of the capital costs, or between $40,000 – $50,000.

Moglove said she’d prefer the project be put off until budget planning.

“The work Coun. Kerr is proposing I do not think could be done in the winter in any event,” Moglove said. “It seems to me what we should be doing is deferring this to our budget discussion for the capital budget which will hopefully be in December. That way we’ll have all the information we need to go forward at that time and it could be ready to go by spring 2013.”

Councillors Andy Adams and Mary Storry agreed with Moglove.

“Even if this motion were to pass tonight, we won’t even be able to have the plan started until we start our budget meetings so I don’t believe we’re delaying the eventual outcome by discussing it at our budget,” Storry said.

“I don’t believe we’re saying no to the project.”

Council then defeated, by way of a tie, Kerr’s motion with councillors Adams, Moglove and Storry in opposition. Mayor Walter Jakeway and councillors Kerr and Samson voted in favour. Coun. Ryan Mennie, who would have broke the tie, was not at the meeting.

The issue is expected to come up again during council’s 2013 budget discussions.