Cartoon characters cause highway slowdown, as campground owner agitates for left-turning lane

·3 min read
This train was partially pulled across the Trans-Canada Highway by the Lakeside at Thorburn resort, slowing down passing drivers. (Submitted by Kayla Evans - image credit)
This train was partially pulled across the Trans-Canada Highway by the Lakeside at Thorburn resort, slowing down passing drivers. (Submitted by Kayla Evans - image credit)

Olaf the snowman, a Minion and a brightly coloured train are among the allies a campground owner in central Newfoundland has employed to bring attention to what he says is a major safety hazard on the Trans-Canada Highway.

Neil Dawe, the owner of the Lakeside at Thorburn resort near Clarenville, spearheaded protests with the cartoon characters last week, slowing down highway traffic as part of a push for a left-turning lane from the highway by his roadside resort.

"There's extreme danger here on the highway. We have high-speed traffic here, 100 kilometres an hour," he said Friday.

"We have absolutely no safety lanes, no turn-off lanes, left turn, right turn, deceleration lanes, standard safety features that are on all modern highways."

Dawe said using children's characters was meant to "stir up some emotion." He was arrested Thursday for his efforts to partially block the road, and while he apologized for slowing down passing drivers, he said he felt he had no other choice.

"The message is: very, very sorry, ladies and gentlemen, if I upset your day a little bit. I am a very desperate man," he told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show on Friday.

There have been no accidents in the area so far, he said. However, the highway is two lanes by his business, and he said it's hazardous for campers to slow down to the necessary dead stop to turn into the Lakeside.

Dawe said his protests and other efforts to get a left-turning lane have so far been met with silence from the provincial government.

"No acknowledgement of our request, no nothing. It is unreal," he said.

Submitted by Kayla Evans
Submitted by Kayla Evans

Construction crunch

Dawe timed his protests to coincide with a highway construction project in the area, with the province ripping up nearby sections of the Trans-Canada to install better drainage, culverts and ditching. While the excavators, dump trucks and construction crews are going about that business, Dawe said, they should add a left-turning lane to their work list.

"We're only looking for 10 feet of pavement on top of this millions and millions of dollars of work here," he said.

His local provincial government representative agrees, and said the area of highway under protest has been a long-standing problem, with particularly poor sightlines for eastbound drivers.

"This has been ongoing for many years, and to me, it's not as much about the Lakeside as it is about the general safety of the public," said Lloyd Parrott, the PC MHA for Terra Nova.

A petition for roadwork has been presented in the House of Assembly in the past, he said, and he has also raised the issue in the legislature, but no action has resulted.

"The government never takes advantage of reducing their spending by doing multiple jobs simultaneously or looking at adjacent areas where they can do work," Parrott said Monday.

"Instead, they come back a year or two later, they tear up pavement that they put down in a fiscal year prior and they double the work and double the cost. It just makes no sense not to do this now."

A statement from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure on Monday afternoon said representatives have been communicating with Dawe about his concerns, and said he's proposing a turning lane "to expand his business at this location."

The statement also accused Dawe of risking the safety of drivers, as well as his own staff and department officials.

"The department respects everyone's right to protest but illegally blocking and diverting traffic from a public road is not an acceptable form of protest," says the statement.

"Mr. Dawe's actions endangered the lives of motorists, his staff, and officials in the department which cannot be condoned."

The statement says the department has informed Dawe that in accordance with their highway access policy, it will work with business owners to have any highway modifications complete, with the costs covered by the developer.

Dawe said he's gearing up for more protests, and figuring out other ways to keep his request for a turning lane in the spotlight.

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