Utterson resident and business owner Corey Mainville says the South Mary Lake Road crossover at Hwy. 11 was closed in haste, without considering the impacts it would have on many of the residents on the west side of the highway.
“When the crossover was closed in March the residents were given no notice and only found out via social media that the crossing would be closed,” wrote Mainville in a letter to MPP Norm Miller, which was forwarded to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.
Mainville, who has lived on Stephenson Road 4 for more than 30 years and is also a volunteer firefighter, maintains that with the fire station being located on South Mary Lake Road, the closure of the crossing has added to the station’s response time and impacted home insurance rates for many residents in his area.
“The residents in my area were within the 10 km response zone required for home insurance, but now that the crossover has been closed most of the residents are outside the 10 km response zone for home insurance,” stated Mainville.
He also noted that no upgrades were done to the roads that would see added traffic as a result of the closure.
“Two of my neighbours had their dogs run over recently due to the increase in traffic on our once quiet, not properly maintained road. There is constant pedestrian traffic walking across the highway now because it’s quicker to park on one side and walk over to the stores on the other side than to have to make the 10 km trek south and then cross at Stephenson Rd 2 then back north to 141 and back again. The other crossovers are much busier now as well. Transport trucks now park regularly on the side of the highway and walk across to access the stores on the other side of the highway,” he wrote.
Over the years there have been many serious accidents at that intersection, some fatal, and a group of residents banded together to have it closed, but Mainville maintains that other options should have been examined.
“I am a first responder so I am very familiar with most of the accidents that happened here. [Ninety-nine per cent] were from people coming off of South Mary Lake Rd. to cross or head north on the highway. This is almost always because of the blind spot created by a car exiting the highway from northbound and people would enter into traffic not seeing the hidden car. A better fix would have been to move the exit further up the highway as to not obstruct the view of people trying to enter the highway. Rarely has there been an accident from a car crossing from Stephenson Rd. 4 or exiting from southbound Hwy 11 onto South Mary Lake Road but these are the people you have cut access to by closing the crossover,” he stated.
Mainville also suggested that a crossover for emergency vehicles could be put in place, but fire chief and Huntsville director of operations and protective services, Steve Hernen, said they’re usually not located at an intersection and said the concern would also be that others would use it. “And I’ve got to be honest with you, I don’t know that I would allow the fire trucks to use it. I mean, that is a bad intersection… volunteer firefighters trying to cross there, are we not just setting them up for the same sort of accidents that we’ve seen the public involved in?”
In terms of an increase in response times, Hernen said the fire department will continue to monitor calls to that area to see if there are significant changes. “I don’t doubt that at three a.m. in the morning it has increased the response times because before you could cut across the highway when there was no traffic, but there was also times when you couldn’t get across the highway because the traffic was too heavy,” he said. “I also think of, I hate to say this, the number of people we’ve cut out of cars there and seen the lives that have been destroyed at that intersection.”
Three levels of government own the roads in that area. While the highway itself is under the jurisdiction of the MTO, South Mary Lake Road falls under the responsibility of the District of Muskoka, while Greer Road, which connects with South Mary Lake Road, is owned by the Town.
Hernen said the municipality is looking at the configuration of the Greer and South Mary Lake Road intersection and will speak to both the MTO and the District “to say, ‘how do we make this whole thing flow better?'”
A reply to Mainville’s letter from the MTO states: “An assignment for the design of intersection improvements associated with the closing of the median cross-over and the right-in/right-out intersection configuration at South Mary Lake Road and Stephenson Road 4 is underway. Construction is planned for 2021, pending funding and approvals.
“While the ministry’s ultimate plan is to close many of the at-grade intersections on Highway 11, there are no current plans to construct a flyover at this location. In addition, the ministry will not be adding an emergency crossover at this location to minimize unsafe, unauthorized use by motorists. The current planned improvements will ensure continued safe operation of this section of Highway 11.
“A separate Operational Performance Review for other at-grade crossings to the south on Highway 11 to identify opportunities to enhance the safe operation of Highway 11 at those intersections is underway.”
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