2,000 sign petition for Balgonie highway access

An overpass was constructed at the intersection of Highway 46 and the Trans-Canada Highway at Balgonie, but residents are concerned with its design, saying it presents issues in emergency situations.

Firefighters say road closure could cost lives

An overpass was constructed at the intersection of Highway 46 and the Trans-Canada Highway over Balgonie and the access point to Highway 1 from Main Street has been permanently closed. (CBC News)

More than 2,000 people have signed a petition asking the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure to keep the town of Balgonie's access to Highway 1 open.

A new overpass was recently opened at the intersection of Highway 46 and the No. 1 at Balgonie, with improving safety a major consideration.

That section of the No. 1, also known as the Trans-Canada Highway, had been plagued with serious accidents over the years.

However, residents are concerned with the result, saying it presents issues in emergency situations.

The access point, just off Balgonie's Main Street and onto Highway 1, has been closed permanently and, according to  NDP interim leader Nicole Sarauer, the lack of access has itself become a safety concern.

The aftermath of the construction of an overpass near Balgonie has brought frustration to residents. (CBC News)

She said she's heard of transport trucks getting stuck, producers not being able to get their equipment through and emergency vehicles being held up while responding.

"It's an extremely concerning problem. More and more we're hearing about local voices being ignored," Sarauer said, during a press conference on Wednesday.

Minister of Highways spokesperson Doug Wakabayashi said in the 12 years before the bypass was built, there had been  13 crashes and two fatalities at the intersection.

"There is no safe option for an intersection at Main Street, so the intersection will remain closed," he said in an emailed statement. "Despite numerous reviews by ministry engineers and independent experts, no viable option for an intersection that will operate safely has been identified."

It's unwelcome news for Jesse Edwards, a member of the Balgonie Fire Department, who started a petition asking for as right-in, right-out access to Highway 1 for first responders.

After only four days of going door to door, there are 2,200 signatures.

'The difference between life and death'

Edwards said the government has offered a locked gate at the access, which firefighters would have to unlock to get through and then lock behind them. Edward called the idea "ludicrous."

"Personally, I won't do it. We've asked politely for our very reasonable requests of having the right-in access open and the right-out access open and keeping a gate operated by remote for emergency response vehicles in the median here," Edwards said.
The NDP's Nicole Sarauer and Jesse Edwards, a member of the Balgonie Fire Department, were talking Wednesday about a petition that has 2,200 signatures. (CBC News)

Without the access, the volunteer department will have to respond through the bypass, which Edwards said adds three to five minutes to their response time.

"It could definitely cost lives," Edwards said. "If you ask anybody that's ever been in a car accident, three to five minutes seems like a lifetime. And that very well could be the difference between life and death. "

He said he's also worried about the possibility of an emergency in the town of Balgonie, which would mean 2,000 people evacuating through one access point.

Public discussion

Dave Lang, a Balgonie resident and firefighter, is also concerned that multiple small businesses in the area will have to shut down if traffic isn't able to access them.

"Small business doesn't seem to matter to the government right now," Lang said.
Dave Lang stands in front of a local restaurant he says might be shut down due to the road closure. (CBC News)

Wakabayashi said business access is available through the four ways out of town.

"We have identified options to improve signage and guidance to local business over and above what already exists on provincial highways," he said. "We are also interested in hearing what solutions the community might have."

The Ministry of Highways will be holding a public meeting at the Balgonie Baptist Church on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. CST.

Another meeting is scheduled for Sept. 25 with the Town of Balgonie, Balgonie Fire Department, the RCMP and the province's emergency response co-ordinator.  

"We committed some time ago to providing a gated access at Main Street that would be controlled by first responders and we will be discussing this, and other potential options at the meeting on the 25th," Wakabayashi said.

With files from CBC's Afternoon Edition and Radio Canada