Local trucking companies are asking the City of Quesnel to come up with an alternative to the Maple Drive detour they’ve been taking for the past year since the Johnston Bridge closed to industrial traffic, citing safety concerns with the busy street.
At its Nov. 26 meeting, Quesnel council received two letters from trucking companies raising safety concerns related to closing the Johnston Bridge to industrial traffic and rerouting industrial traffic to Maple Drive for access to Quesnel Plywood Plant.
“Drivers are raising safety concerns about the Maple Drive route,” Colin Keis of Keis Trucking Ltd. wrote to council. “The concerns are related to the design of the road, as well as the heavy pedestrian and vehicle traffic. Navigating two school zones, a daycare, narrow roads, sharp corners and a steep downhill with a stop sign at the bottom, as well as limited streetlights and a lack of sidewalks, all significantly increase the risk of an adverse event.”
Keis told council the Johnston Bridge needs repair to allow industrial traffic again, and in the meantime, alternatives to Maple Drive need to be investigated. He suggested North Star Road and Johnston Avenue as an option, noting “this route is a safer option, having sidewalks, lighting and crosswalks.”
Lloyd Inwood of Inwood Trucking Ltd. asked council to have Johnston Avenue reopened to industrial traffic.
“We have been hauling loads of logs to Quesnel Plywood along this stretch of road [the Maple Drive route] for one year, and as far as we can see, nothing has been done to improve the integrity of the bridge,” Inwood wrote in his letter to council. “If this bridge is not going to be repaired to standards that can withstand weights up to 63,500 kg, we need to be using a safer, more suitable route to haul logs to the mill. In the course of the year that we have been hauling along the Maple Drive Corridor, drivers report their safety concerns on a weekly, if not daily, basis.”
In his letter, Inwood suggests Johnston Avenue as an alternative.
“Inwood Trucking has hauled logs in the Quesnel area for 54 years, with many trips through Johnston Subdivision over the course of those years,” he wrote. “Because we have hauled on this road in the past, we know that the infrastructure will withstand industrial traffic. There are far less safety concerns on this route, primarily the fact that Carson school is one block off of Johnston Avenue, therefore decreasing the amount of foot traffic we are hauling past.”
Inward noted that the number of children attending Quesnel Junior School (492) and École Red Bluff Lhtako Elementary (306) in the Maple Drive area “far outnumbers” the number of children at Carson Elementary (168). As well, there are speed bumps, crosswalks and lighting along Johnston Avenue.
“If industrial traffic is going to be forced to haul through residential areas, this is by far the safest route,” wrote Inwood. “Ideally, our industry wants to see the Johnston Bridge repaired so we can go back to hauling on this route and not have to drive through residential areas, but in the meantime, we would like to have access to this much safer route along Johnston Ave.”
The Johnston Bridge was closed to all vehicular traffic Oct. 3, 2018, after engineers found rust holes that compromise the bridge structure during a detailed inspection. The bridge was later re-opened to light traffic, including cars, pickup trucks, SUVs and minivans, but since Oct. 3, 2018, industrial and heavy commercial traffic has been detoured via Plywood Road and Maple Drive.
Mayor Bob Simpson said the City has had a meeting now with the Ministry of Transportation, the Quesnel School District and the Cariboo Regional District (CRD) regarding this issue.
“We have a bit of a game plan on the kinds of things we need to look at for improving safety on Maple Drive, looking at options for traffic diversion during emergencies and so on, looking at options for the diversion of some or all traffic, so could unloaded trucks come out on Johnston and loaded go in on Maple,” he said. “We’re going to have an options paper. The Ministry of Transportation has some of it, the CRD and school district have some. Their part would be to look at can we get pedestrian traffic off Maple Drive. There are side roads running parallel to Maple Drive on both sides of Maple Drive, and could we do some road mapping of that as your pedestrian and cycling traffic, and the school district can help us to move their schools’ pedestrian traffic onto there, and the CRD is going to look at their property map to see if there are any cutovers just like we have in some of our neighbourhoods where there may be an easement where you can create cutovers that make it easy for people to move back and forth. The City manager is going to work with the licenses and trucking agencies to see what the truck deployment looks like to see if there are options there for sharing the load on the two roads.”
Simpson says no decisions have been made, and nobody is anywhere close to making a decision, but in the City’s capital plan, the earliest the Johnston Bridge would be back up to full weight bearing is at least three years at the outside and probably more like five to six years.
“We’re going to put an options paper together and bring that paper forward,” he said, noting it will likely come to council in January or February. “These companies have been informed this is a complex decision and it’s going to take some due diligence on our part.”
City manager Byron Johnson says the most recent cost estimate for repairing the Johnston Bridge was around $4 million, and that included not only fixing the damage, but also putting coatings on the bridge that would extend the life about 20-25 years.
“The issue on that bridge has really been with the amount of heavy truck traffic coming over, when it hits the bridge, there’s a bit of a bump, and it knocks all the sand and salt off those trucks, which has led to some really advanced corrosion,” said Johnson.