Firefighters east of Regina still concerned about new bypass

First responders in town of Balgonie, Sask., continue to press the government for alternate routes out of town, besides the new bypass.

Highways Ministry says blocking the main street exit about safety

Volunteer firefighter Jesse Edwards says the new bypass at Balgonie has reduced the route options to get out of the town, which could cause bottlenecks in an emergency. (Submitted by Jesse Edwards)

Not all first responders east of Regina are happy about the new bypass.

Earlier this week, the fire chief in White City said he was "ecstatic" because his department has been responding to fewer collisions since the overpasses were built.

In Balgonie, where Jesse Edwards is a volunteer firefighter, it's a different story. 

Edwards came to the legislature Thursday to ask the government again to allow westbound traffic to make right turns off Highway 1 into town, and right turns out of town onto the same highway heading west.

Volunteer firefighter Jesse Edwards says people in Balgonie, Sask., have safety concerns regarding the new bypass. (Craig Edwards/CBC)

Edwards says without that option, routes out of town are limited.

"For example if a train derails, which several trains have derailed in the last month or so, we're basically bottlenecked to one way, more or less, out of town," Edwards said.

"Given a community of people trying to get out in a mean hurry there's going to be accidents and confusion ... and it could cost lives."

The government has said not allowing traffic to turn directly off the highway into town is a safety issue. 

Highways spokesperson Doug Wakabayashi said first responders could have gone east in the westbound lanes of Highway 1 for 400 metres, but the town rejected that idea. (Craig Edwards/CBC)

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

Edwards said none of those involved people turning right onto or off Highway 1, but rather vehicles that crossed lanes of traffic. 

The government had initially suggested first responders drive east in the westbound lanes of Highway 1 for 400 metres before turning around.

Driving the wrong way on the Trans-Canada highway is a suggestion Edwards finds ridiculous. Highways spokesperson Doug Wakabayashi said the idea could have worked.

"Traffic control on busy highways is something that's done by first responders in emergency situations routinely," he said.

However, he acknowledged it is a moot point now that the community has rejected the idea.

Highways Minister David Marit says the government has addressed the community's concerns. (Craig Edwards/CBC)

The government is now preparing to install a gate which first responders can unlock to get out of town and onto Highway 1 in an emergency.

"We are putting an emergency access almost right at the school," said Highways Minister David Marit.

"It's going to have armed gates ... which the emergency response team will have full access to. They'll have the controls."

Edwards is not a fan of that idea, either.

"If it was made by man, it was made to fail," said Edwards.

"If we have to open the gate and it doesn't open, what are we going to do?"

Marit said the gate will not fail.