Central councillors, Mike Mantha unhappy with first glance at MTO ideas for hazardous intersection

MINDEMOYA – Both the municipality of Central Manitoulin and Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha are disappointed in the Ministry of Transportation’s (MTO’s) proposed recommendations in an operational performance review carried out by the ministry on the Highway 551/542 intersection in downtown Mindemoya.

“I echo the frustration that municipal council and staff representatives have expressed,” said MPP Mantha said after the meeting he attended with municipal and MTO officials. “It was evident the suggestions put forward by the municipality and my ideas are not options that are viable from the MTO perspective.” 

“What was the outcome of the (MTO) meeting,” asked Central Manitoulin Councillor Derek Stephens at a road committee meeting held on December 7. 

“Quite frankly, I’m a little less optimistic than I was at the site meeting (with the MTO) earlier this summer. I don’t think there will be any big movement or move by the MTO on our suggestions and recommendations,” stated Councillor Steve Shaffer. “I was more optimistic at the onsite meeting.” 

Councillor Shaffer explained at the meeting on December 6, four representatives of the MTO were in attendance, and “we were dealing with two new traffic engineers. They have been getting up to speed on the issue, looking at Google images on a computer. There was a lot of information provided but it sounds like anything they might do will be fine tuning, putting in larger stop signs and that type of thing.”

“What they said is that, based on their study and report, the intersection is functioning as properly as it should,” stated Councillor Shaffer, “and that it is as compliant as it can be compared to other similar areas. They don’t see an issue at all at the intersection.” He said the MTO data does not appear to support changes to benefit sight lines at Jake’s Home Centre for vehicle and passenger traffic, although he said it appears the MTO “is somewhat in favour of limiting speed limits around the hospital for vehicles heading into the downtown area.” 

Councillor Shaffer said, “our proposal to have an amber flashing red light at the intersection was new information to their (MTO) new traffic people at the meeting. “And they said it might not be doable to have a connection for this at the intersection through hydro, because of the costs involved. MPP Mantha pressed them on what the costs would be and they said they didn’t have the final cost for this. And the idea of having a four-way stop at the intersection would cause more problems than solutions for traffic. They said if we really want them to look at this they would, but they don’t recommend it.” 

“The bottom line is they don’t see a problem with the intersection,” said Councillor Shaffer. “They said they would be in favour of making a couple of tweaks, like larger stop signs and brighter LED lights, but that was about it. I’m not as optimistic as I was previously.”

Councillor Angela Johnston said, “Steve’s view on the meeting is correct. They feel the intersection is functioning property, that it does not need major changes, but things like fixing up and having larger stop signs. As for all the numbers and data on any accidents or close calls at the intersection they said these were due to driver error and inattentiveness. They found reasons to not do most things we had recommended.” She noted the MTO would consider lower speed limits and signs posted prior to the Mindemoya Hospital for vehicle traffic coming into Mindemoya. 

Municipal clerk CAO Ruth Frawley agreed with both councillors’ assessments of the meeting with the MTO. “The biggest takeaway for me is that they said the intersection is working fine.” She pointed out only one of the MTO officials in attendance at last week’s meeting has been at the downtown intersection site. 

The roads committee was told MPP Mantha had pressured the MTO officials as to what the costs would be for having a flashing red-amber light at the intersection. It was noted that this can be done but the MTO representatives felt the costs would be too high. The MPP asked the MTO to produce exact figures on this.

“They didn’t want to think outside of the box,” said Councillor Shaffer. “And in their site visit they didn’t get any historical knowledge from the community on the accidents and near misses that have taken place at the intersection.” 

“Was there any indication that they (MTO) had been in discussion with local people and businesses that live and work around the intersection and the problems and all the near misses that have taken place over the years,” asked Mayor Stephens.

Absolutely not, was the reply to Mayor Stephens. “This is a little unnerving,” he stated. “I thought this was one of the reasons the third party was doing the site visit, to get local input.” 

MPP Mantha told The Expositor, “It was obvious that the suggestions the municipality made and options I had raised previously are not options that are viable from the MTO perspective. One of the options that was brought forward was for an amber flashing light above the centre of the intersection. But they said it is not financially feasible and that it would require easement approvals from Hydro One, and with needing certain distances for sight lines, it may create more visibility issues. But I would like to have more discussions on this issue. We want to know what these costs are. I would like a financial feasibility study done.” 

“The documentation and statistics provided by the MTO didn’t indicate how many close calls that have been seen at that intersection over the years,” said MPP Mantha. He said the MTO officials indicate that based on statistics, there has only been three accidents at the intersection over the years, along with the serious accident that took place this past summer.

“So, it sounds like the meeting went the way I thought it would go,” said Councillor Stephens, chair of the roads committee. 

Councillor Shaffer said the MTO has indicated that their final report is to be released by the end of the year with formal recommendations made. 

Chief administrative officer Ruth Frawley suggested the municipality should continue to request that MPP Mantha continue to lobby the province on behalf of the municipality on this issue. 

“That sounds good,” added Mayor Stephens.

Jaclyn Lytle, communications co-ordinator for northeast operations at MTO, told The Expositor in an email December 10, “ministry engineering and operations staff met virtually with the Municipality of Central Manitoulin and MPP Michael Mantha earlier this week.”

“Ministry staff delivered the findings noted in the final operational performance review of the Highway 551 and Highway 542 intersection in Mindemoya and discussed recommendations arising from these findings,” said Ms. Lytle. “The ministry will be sharing the recommendations directly with the municipality for their consideration before finalizing next steps.”