September 12, 2017 7:41 pm
Updated: September 12, 2017 10:00 pm

Balgonie residents appeal for partial reopening of Highway 1 access point

A high collision rate at the Highway 1 access point in Balgonie helped spur the construction of the nearby overpass. That access point has now been closed, but residents still want to see it remain partially open. David Baxter explains.

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A high collision rate at the Highway 1 access point just off Balgonie’s Main Street helped spur the construction of a new overpass just west of the small town as part of the Regina Bypass.

However, there is a consequence that caught some residents off guard. That access point was permanently closed last week, as no entry barriers were put up.

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This has Jesse Edwards and others working to gather support for continued right in-right out access to the highway at Main Street. This means that traffic travelling west on Highway 1 can turn directly onto Main Street, and back out onto the west bound stretch of highway.

“I started a Facebook group last October, and it started off slowly with about two dozen members,” Edwards said.

“Since Friday, or whenever [the access point] was closed, we’re up to shy of 400 members now.”

Edwards is also a volunteer firefighter, and has safety concerns about being diverted to the overpass.

“That’s going to be an absolute disaster for us,” he said.

“Anyone that works in emergency services knows seconds matter and basically what we’re being told is they want us to go all the way down to the overpass and come around, which would add possibly three to five minutes to our calls.”

READ MORE: Balgonie overpass set to open early next week

There is also worry around the impact of local business. The Diner is located at the south end of Main Street, right by the old access point. Owner Dick Champlone said he relies on customers coming in off the highway.

“We lose that access where people from the highway can’t pull in then of course we lose 50 per cent of our business,” Champlone said.

He now fears a lack of highway customers will result in him having to close The Diner, which he’s owned for eight years, and put nine people out of work.

The community has further safety concerns. With the closure of the access point a lone intersection that branches to Highways 10 and 46, which links to the overpass. Edwards worries a collision could lead to a bottle neck, effectively trapping people in town.

Trains tracks also run through the town. Edwards said that in the event of a disaster or derailment involving hazardous materials there would be a bottle neck at the town’s exit, slowing a potential evacuation.

READ MORE: Balgonie Overpass curbs to be modified following farmer complaints

Deputy Highways & Infrastructure Minister Fred Antunes said that the ministry is working with Balgonie town council to develop an emergency response plan if such an event were to occur.

Atunes said that the closure is being done in the name of safety. Due to the proximity of the access point to the on and off ramps, for the bypass and Highway 10 interchange, having a right in-right out access point would create a dangerous weaving area.

“Any time you have at grade intersections there’s potential for conflict,” Atunes said.

“Putting in an overpass takes away the at-grade component of it. So we’ve made it safer by adding the overpass. With the overpass there, there’s no need to have the intersection.”

The Ministry is planning a pilot project where affected businesses will be able to buy sign space on the highway advertising their businesses.

Edwards will be hosting an information night on their Edwards will be hosting an information night on their appeal to the ministry Wednesday night at the Balgonie Fire Hall. There will also be a petition circulated around the community in favour of partially reopening the intersection.

In a joint statement, Balgonie town council said the full closure of the intersection is detrimental to the vitality and safety of the community, and favour a right in-right out approach.

However, these appeals are not likely to sway the ministry.

“At this point there’s no way we’re going to revisit that decision. We’ve invested a lot of money to create a safe corridor on Highway 1 east,” Atunes said.

A Ministry of Highways diagram showing how the overpasses resulted in the closure of the access point.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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