County moves slowly at roads study

A letter from a Centre Wellington resident is causing some county and local politicians to refocus again on a roads rationalization study.
Staci Barron, of Elora, told the county roads committee that Centre Well­ington or county council should work on keeping large trucks that are hauling “any type of cargo from using our residential roads … unless they have a bill of lading specifying delivery to a local address.”
Barron acknowledged that county councillor Jean Innes had told her that Metcalfe and Geddes Streets are county-con­trolled roads, and re­strictions must come from the county.
Barron argued the county’s “Road 7 was constructed for the use of through traffic and large loads yet on any given day, [residents] in Elora can tell you we have up to 30 to 70 trucks a day using our major downtown streets.”
Barron concluded, “Surely there is someone in charge, somewhere, who is motivated to help their local constituents protect their businesses, air quality, and the roads we all pay for. Not to mention the deafening noise of jakes brakes and the safety of all con­cern­ed.”
The county roads com­mit­tee has indicated it has no in­tention of banning trucks from its roads running through Elora.
That is where a roads ra­tionalization study comes in.
Wellington County has tried for one numerous times. War­den John Green said on Mon­day the last major look at swapping roads and bridges with local municipalities came in the late 1970s. He remem­bers in the early 1990s there was another attempt to consider exchanging roads, but that went nowhere.
A third attempt was made in 2003 but after the municipal elec­tion, a rationalization study was removed from the county budget in order to lower taxes. The county has now agreed to try again, but it has been slow get­ting out of the gate.
Green told council in Feb­ruary that he would like to have a meeting with Grey County officials before getting started, because they have completed the exercise and could help Wellington avoid some of the pitfalls in making exchan­ges.
He said there was a meeting scheduled with Grey officials, but about “four other issues came up,” which delayed the meeting.
Green said there are two key issues on which he would like to focus, the first being that any changes would have to be taxation neutral. He explained that if local municipalities take over $5-million worth of roads, the county should cut that $5-million from its roads budget, so taxpayers are not affected. If the brunt of the costs should fall on the county, then the muni­cipalities should be able to lower their spending by a simi­lar amount.
The second issue, Green said, is bridges. He said there was an unwritten philosophy that bridges on boundary roads should be the responsibility of the county. The problem is that with amalgamation, a large num­ber of the former boundary roads disappeared as boun­daries.
“There has to be evidence to the taxpayers” that they will not get hit with extra costs, Green said.
He noted that roads running through municipalities that are county owned are usually the most travelled roads.
As well, county roads are generally built to higher stan­dards in order to handle larger volumes of traffic.
Green said, for example, if the county were to turn over the main streets in Elora or Fergus to the municipality, it would likely have to assume respon­sibility for any bypasses around those towns. because that is where the traffic would be heading.
He noted, too, that one dif­ficulty in getting anyone to agree to road swaps depends “on who gets elected on a particular day.”
He said new councillors bring new ideas, but change means unfamiliarity with issues such as these, and staff charged with working out agreements find themselves dealing with a whole new set of political atti­tudes.
Roads committee chairman Carl Hall said it will be difficult to reach an agreement between the upper and lower tiers, but he believes it should be done somehow.
He said every year on road tours, municipalities cite high traffic roads they have, which could be taken over by the county.
“There are definitely some roads that should be in the county box, and others that should be with the municipalities,” Hall said.
He added compromise and some horse trading are likely going to be needed.
“Common sense is going to have to be the bottom line on a whole lot of these things,” he said.
Centre Wellington Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj was quoted in a News report as stating that she would not favour taking over the main street road in Elora, but said later that she had been caught off guard and had sim­ply given a quick answer while travelling from one committee meeting to another.
She said she does not think roads rationalization should mean downloading on anyone, and she would like to see some shared responsibility.
“Rationalization has taken a long time to get started,” she noted.
In her municipality, council is wrestling with a $4-million bridge for the 8th Line of Pil­kington that councillors are unsure they can afford. At the same time, the county is plan­ning to replace the Metcalfe Street bridge and the township is partnering with the county to do some work on McNabb Street. She is unsure what rationalization studies will mean in the middle of those projects.
To make things worse, her council has refused to spend money this year for the 8th Line bridge because the cost is approaching $4-million and the township cannot afford it. Ross-Zuj has been working to hang onto the Canada Ontario Rural Infrastructure Funding grants of nearly $1.2-million while the township tries to find a way to build the bridge.
She has also tried for a top up of the grant, but that has been refused. While the township waited for approvals to build, the cost of the bridge skyrocketed.
Ross-Zuj said she could see a situation where her municipality would maintain and clear a road of snow, while the county would look at repairs and replacement of that same road.
“It’s not black and white,” she said. “We could work together.”
As for the truck traffic in the downtown, she said it was very heavy in 2007, but noted that it might not be as bad this sum­mer. She said the provincial government’s rebuilding of Highway 6 last summer meant gravel trucks came down Middle­brook Road, through Elora, and then east to the highway.
She is pleased the county is working with her municipality on McNabb Street, and said, “That’s coming together nice­ly.”
But everyone will have to wait for a full roads rationali­zation study. There is no telling when or even if it will be com­pleted.