Progress made on finding solutions to alleviate Billings’ Highway 540 safety concerns

KAGAWONG—A committee made up of representatives of Billings township council, the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) and the Manitoulin detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) will be putting forward changes that are hoped will alleviate some of the safety concerns council has raised in the past with vehicles parking in the area of Highway 540 near Bridal Veil Falls, causing congestion in the area and posing a safety hazard for people walking and crossing the road while vehicles are going by.

“I’m going to be giving councillors a brief outline of the meeting (all three parties had recently),” Billings clerk Kathy McDonald told the Recorder. She said the MTO has expressed its support of many things the township council has requested. She said bigger ‘no parking’ signs can be posted on the highway as long as they are not blocking sight lines.

“If (council) decides it would like to have a pedestrian crosswalk in that area we can apply for a study on this, and there is funding we can apply for,” said Ms. McDonald. “We can put vehicle tow- away signs up as long as long as it does not create a distraction for motorists, is approved by the MTO, and is a  community initiative.”

The  OPP has the right to enforce and fine drivers for parking in a no stopping area, and it was pointed out the no stopping signs the MTO has proposed in the past have not yet been formally approved but will be in the very near future.

“We were told we could put up traffic cones in the area of the bridge,” said Ms. McDonald. “And we were told by the MTO representative (Doug Herbrand) at the meeting that the MTO will help us put measures in place step by step until something works.”

“The no stopping signs still have to go through the minister (MTO) for approval and be signed off and will be in the near future,” said Billings councillor Brian Parker.

“It was a good meeting with the municipality and the MTO, which recognizes there are problems. We all  want to avoid any tragedies from taking place,” stated OPP Sergeant Mike Patterson. He explained fines of $40 can be imposed by the OPP for drivers who violate the no parking signs, for instance. However, an OPP officer can’t just write up a ticket and leave it on the violators vehicle; a ticket has to be handed out to the violator in person.

Gordan Rennie, regional issues and media advisor with the MTO Northeastern Region, told the Recorder  this past Monday, “the Township of Billings has identified road safety concerns with on-street parking on Highway 540 near Bridal Veil Falls in Kagawong.”

“Based on previous discussions, the Ministry of Transportation committed to reviewing the area for potential regulatory measures to address this problem which resulted in the MTO regional traffic office preparing a no stopping regulatory amendment. The amendment is under review and we hope to have it in place for this summer. The community also constructed a parking lot adjacent to Highway 540 approximately 200 metres east of the falls last year to provide a safe location for tourists to park, instead of  parking along the shoulders of the highway,” said Mr. Rennie.

“The OPP has expressed concerns that the regulatory no stopping prohibition may not sufficiently discourage visitors to Bridal Veil Falls from parking along the shoulders of the highway. They have recommended signs to indicate ‘tow-away zone’ be posted in addition to the no stopping signs,” explained Mr. Rennie. “The ministry has advised that there is currently no provision for tow-away zone signs under MTO’s policies and standards, although some municipalities have implemented similar signs on their roadways in certain circumstances. The ministry advised the township and OPP that it may be open to such a sign, subject to ministry review and approval to ensure it would not create a distraction for motorists. However, these signs would need to be a community initiative. We understand the  township  will investigate the cost to make, install and maintain such signs if they are approved by MTO.”

“The ministry was also asked if a barricade along the highway could be installed to keep vehicles from stopping/parking along the shoulders. Due to operational and maintenance issues with a barricade next to the driving lane MTO does not support a permanent or semi-permanent barrier along the highway,” continued Mr. Rennie. “However, the ministry may be willing to allow traffic cones along the shoulders delineating the shoulder from the driving lanes. This would be similar to what was implemented by Mindemoya near their arena during special events. This would be the responsibility of the township to install and maintain.”

“The next step in the process is for final approval to be given by the MTO for the no stopping signs,” said Councillor Parker. It is expected the signs will be up before the start of the tourism season.