The intersection of Grey Road 19 and 21 is a busy spot. Not only is it the dividing line between the Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM) in Grey County and Collingwood in Simcoe County, it is also the gateway to several residential subdivisions and one of the province’s busiest four-season resorts.
As the traffic congestion mounts, Grey County, Simcoe County and the TBM are working together to develop plans that will improve the intersection and meet the growing traffic demands.
However, the project is a major undertaking – both logistically and financially.
“The project is very complicated due to property issues, development in the area, numerous utility matters, multiple stakeholders and personnel changes, which caused delays in agreeing on a final design for the intersection,” said Pat Hoy, director of transportation for Grey County.
The intersection of Grey Road 19 and 21, also known as Simcoe Road 34, is jointly owned by Grey County and Simcoe County and, according to Hoy, the intersection redevelopment project has been on the agenda of both council’s since 2011.
Earlier this week, TBM held a special meeting of council, which saw Hoy present a deputation to TBM council and the TBM transportation committee on the proposed project.
Currently, Grey County has taken the lead on preparing the initial site designs, which propose the installation of a traffic roundabout similar in size and style to the existing roundabout at Grey Road 19 and Scenic Caves Road.
The roundabout construction is expected to start in 2022 and will likely carry into 2023. The project is estimated to cost approximately $4.1 million. Since 2017, $70,000 has been spent on consultants, planning and design.
Simcoe County is expected to contribute $1.56 million to the project with Grey County development charges making up the remaining balance.
“A lot of development-charge funding has been obtained from the Blue Mountains area with the huge amounts of development that have been going on here in the last five or six years,” Hoy said. “So, there is a lot of development-charge money going into this job. And, rightfully so. Blue Mountains has a huge amount of development and it's the development that's caused this project to be required.”
Along with redeveloping the intersection, Grey County is also proposing reconstructing Grey Road 19 to go from two lanes to four lanes between Grey Road 119 and Grey Road 21.
“The [traffic] volumes are just so high that we need to have four lanes there,” Hoy said. Referring to the section of Grey Road 19 from the intersection of Mountain Road and Grey Road 21 toward the roundabout at the resort.
Traffic counts completed in January 2019 along this stretch of roadway, showed peak-hour counts of nearly 800 vehicles.
“The maximum for an arterial road of this class is somewhere from 800 to 1,200,” Hoy stated in a staff report.
He explained that the top three priorities for Grey County to get the project moving are acquiring additional land around the intersection, relocating and enhancing the utilities, as well as relocating the Mountain Road Water Booster Pumping Station.
“It is imperative that a new pumping station be constructed and commissioned in a new location and the existing pumping station decommissioned and dismantled, all prior to the construction and completion of the roundabout,” said Hoy.
At this stage of the project, Grey County and TBM are searching for the appropriate land to relocate the pump station. The current station was installed underground in 2004, and according to Hoy, the new station will be built above ground and is expected to cost well over $1 million.
Currently, there is no agreement in place as to who is responsible for footing the bill for relocating the booster station. However, Hoy noted that Grey County and TBM may look to enter a cost-sharing agreement for the expense.
To keep the project on schedule, the booster station relocation must be completed by 2022.
As far as acquiring land around the intersection, Simcoe County will be taking on the task of land acquisition for the project as Grey County does not have a dedicated land acquisition department.
“There are land acquisitions all along this corridor that need to be pursued,” Hoy said. “The issue is, they don't want to go out and start talking to landowners until the utilities are finished. So, they have not started the true land acquisition negotiations yet.”
Utilities that are currently installed in and around the intersection include: Hydro One; EPCOR; Rogers; Bell; Union Gas; and Enbridge. Detailed designs of the intersection as a roundabout were sent to the utility companies for planning purposes last March.
Site preparation to move the utilities are expected to begin soon and area residents may notice site preparation activity, such as tree clearing in the area.
When it comes to Grey Road 19 and its expansion to four-lanes, Hoy said the Environmental Assessment (EA) is already underway but it will be at least another year until it is complete.
He added that the main reason for expanding the roadway is to move traffic in and out of Blue Mountain Resort.
“That is really its main purpose of this from the county's point of view,” Hoy said.
At the special meeting of council, a number of concerns were raised about the project proposal, including the need to plan for pedestrians and cyclists as the current plans have no specific details to include active transportation lanes.
“We're not putting any special bike lanes right in the intersection. Riders can either dismount their bike and cross or enter the roundabout and make their way through as they do now,” said Hoy.
Ron White, member of the TBM transportation committee, said he was not satisfied with the consideration in the design plans for active transportation.
“Thinking that we're going to have pedestrians walking along an extended paved shoulder potentially, or cyclists side-by-side with that traffic, on what is going to be one of the busiest roads in Ontario is not a good solution. We need to find a better way to handle that,” White said.
Nathan Westendorp, director of planning and development services for TBM added that there is currently a proposal to install a trail along Grey Road 19.
“There is a proposed three-meter trail along Grey Road 19 for the entire extent of the Windfall area, and the overall grand plan is to continue doing that along 19,” Westendorp said. “Staff are definitely working with community services to figure out the details but that is definitely a key objective that we're working toward.”
Following Hoy’s deputation, TBM council members asked town staff to prepare a report that will outline the project’s “entire scope of work” from TBM’s perspective.
“What I see coming back to council is a report to say that staff have reached an agreement with Grey County staff and they'll ask us to endorse that,” said TBM Mayor Alar Soever. “Certainly, there will be issues that are going to be addressed by the EA but at least the land acquisition and the movement of the utilities can commence because otherwise, everything else will fall behind as well.”
Public consultation on the project is expected to begin in the near future and will be predominantly communicated through the Grey County and TBM websites.
Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca