Faced with a plea from a group of concerned citizens, there didn't appear to be much appetite for reconsidering a decision to reroute trucks through the hamlet of Alma at a recent county roads committee meeting.
But councillors did seem to agree there needed to be fuller consultation before similar moves are made in the future.
Signs for the alternate route, which diverts truck traffic away from downtown Fergus in Centre Wellington, went up in June. Since then, in the neighbouring township of Mapleton, Alma residents have been speaking out about safety concerns.
Mapleton council has also formally registered its disapproval.
At it’s Tuesday meeting, the roads committee heard from James Ferrier, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Wellington 7 and 17. Ferrier said the group numbers around 100 people opposed to council's decision to redirect the heavy vehicles.
The alternate truck route makes Wellington Road 7 and 17 more dangerous, particularly for children who wait for the school bus along it, Ferrier said. Furthermore the lack of consultation with affected residents “is alarming,” he continued.
“We feel that the unwanted portion of traffic that Fergus or Centre Wellington is seeing should not be forced upon the outlying municipalities,” Ferrier said, calling it an unacceptable “hand off of responsibility, cost and risk.”
Ferrier asked the roads committee to reconsider its decision to create the alternate route through Alma and remove the accompanying signage.
Councillor Jeff Duncan said he sympathized with Ferrier and going forward he’d like to see things done differently.
“I believe the public comments were through Centre Wellington’s Master Transportation Plan,” Duncan said. “Doesn’t matter how keen a citizen you are, even if you’re a real keener, you’re probably not watching the public consultation process that’s going on in the neighbouring municipality.”
But Duncan said he didn’t see the reconsideration vote Ferrier wanted passing at the committee or council level.
“I would strongly suggest and recommend to you to maybe come up with a plan B,” Duncan said.
He suggested Ferrier return with ideas for safety measures like street lights, flashing speed signs or sidewalk improvements. That approach would “probably would gain a bit more traction,” he said.
Puslinch mayor, James Seeley echoed Duncan’s comments about the need for broader consultation, along with a policy at the county level to guide the implementation of future bypasses.
“I find it challenging that one member municipality hires a consultant and says ‘go around our town with truck traffic,” he said.
Meanwhile, Centre Wellington mayor Kelly Linton said there was “significant consultation” on the matter through Centre Wellington’s online platform and two public open houses at the Centre Wellington Sportsplex.
“It was a very public process and at the end of the day these signs are suggestions, we can’t enforce trucks to use a certain route,” Linton said.
He emphasized that Centre Wellington had followed the proper process and didn’t “try to push off” its traffic challenges to another municipality. In fact the new route passes through areas of Salem and Elora, he said.
Centre Wellington’s Master Plan calls for a truck route that bypasses all urban centres in the future, Linton said.
“But frankly we don’t have millions and millions of dollars right now to build another route around," he said. "So we’re trying to be proactive having a real good long-term plan, but in the meantime we’re going to do what we can with the existing county road network."
Duncan responded his concern wasn’t that Centre Wellington didn’t do its job when it came to consultation, but the county could have done more in terms of gathering public feedback.
The committee voted to have staff report back with a communication plan for future detour signage that affects more than one municipality. It also asked that black cat traffic monitors deployed in Alma.
County data presented at Tuesday’s meeting shows truck traffic along county roads 7 and 17 peaking in 2018 and trending downward since.
With the alternative route signage just installed in June, county manager of roads Joe de Koning said it’s hard to say at this point if that's lead to an increase.
In an interview after the meeting, Ferrier said he was initially “a little disappointed at the reaction to my presentation."
“But then as conversation developed, it seemed like there was some agreement that something needs to be done along how these bypasses are developed,” he continued. “Maybe there’ll be some people that are friendly to reconsidering.”
Ferrier said his group is amassing signatures for a petition to present to county council, in the meantime, they’ll also look into the alternative safety measures suggested by Duncan.
In order for council to reconsider a previously made decision, a motion must be made and seconded by councillors that previously voted on the prevailing side of the item.
The matter can then be debated and a two-third majority is required in order to reverse the decision.