As a result of severe traffic congestion on Main Street and surrounding roads during the 2019 Ironman 70.3 Muskoka race, a new route has been proposed for the run portion of the race for 2020 that would help to alleviate that issue but would see Brunel Road from Veterans Way to West Browns Road closed for just over six hours on race day, Sunday, July 12, 2020.
Details about the proposed closure were shared at the Jan. 30, 2020 meeting of Huntsville’s Community Services Committee.
The proposed 2020 run route starts at the Canada Summit Centre (CSC), where the triathlon’s transition zone is, and stretches along Brunel Road to North Mary Lake Road and back. The bike route also runs down Brunel, from the CSC to Baysville and back.
In past years, Brunel Road has had traffic restrictions due to the bike portion of the race. This year, with the addition of the new run route, there would be a full closure on Brunel Road from 7 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. until the bike portion of the race is complete, after which at least one full lane could be opened until the end of the race at 4:30 p.m.
Owners, residents or visitors at 491 properties would be unable to leave or access those properties during the road closure according to the staff report presented at the meeting—394 permanent residences, 77 seasonal residences, nine agricultural properties, five special-purpose properties, two commercial properties, two industrial properties, and two institutional properties.
Also, those who are at properties to the south of West Browns Road would need to detour using either West and East Browns Road or Muskoka Road 10 through Port Sydney.
There are provisions in place to help vehicles through the closed section of Brunel Road in the event of an emergency.
If approved, race organizers will notify residents and businesses about the closure, and road signs will be placed in the area a week prior to the event to inform drivers who travel that route.
The proposed route has been approved by Huntsville’s SEAT (Special Event Advisory Team); according to the staff report the District of Muskoka also supports the closure. (Brunel Road is a District road.)
Other run routes were considered and deemed infeasible due to either construction, traffic concerns, or steep hills.
What is Ironman 70.3 Muskoka?
This will be the 13th Ironman-branded race that Huntsville has hosted; it is one of just five communities in Canada to host them—the others are Whistler, Calgary, Mont-Tremblant, and Victoria.
An Ironman 70.3 triathlon is half the distance of a full Ironman—Huntsville has hosted both distances in the past—and includes a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run for a total of 70.3 miles or just over 113 km.
Since 2017, the Town of Huntsville has hosted the race at the Canada Summit Centre, which acts as the race transition zone. Prior to 2017, Deerhurst Resort was the host location but due to other commitments chose not to continue with that agreement.
The Town entered into a three-year agreement to host the Ironman 70.3 Muskoka with race organizer, Trisport Events, for 2019, 2020, and 2021, with the option to renew for an additional three years in 2022, 2023, 2024. The time of year in which the race is held is heavily influenced by the Ironman organization.
Greg Pilling, the Town’s manager of sales and customer service, noted that the event has a positive economic impact for Huntsville, attracting athletes from around the world who, on average, stay in the area for three to four days. Some also travel to the area in the weeks leading up to the race to train. The 2020 event was sold out by Nov. 5, 2019, with 1,800 athletes registered.
“With spectators, the event will bring over 5,000 visitors to town,” said Pilling. Citing information he received from race organizers, he said the event has “an impact over one million dollars to the community. Hotels and motels are sold out at their peak rates.”
The Town pays an annual licensing fee of $25,000 to host the event. This year, those funds are coming from the new Municipal Accommodation Tax. According to the staff report, the hosting agreement also includes the Town
providing “all required municipal facilities as in kind including the $53.00 SEAT application fee.”
What does the committee think of the proposed race route?
During discussion at the Community Services Committee meeting, Councillor Tim Withey wondered what feedback has been received by the Town in the past, and whether affected residents have been notified about the proposed road closure.
Pilling said that he received fewer than five direct complaints, but that general comments on social media regarding the traffic delays caused at Main and Centre by the race in the past two years have been quite negative.
“That’s been one of our biggest pressure points,” said Pilling, noting that because there are few gaps between runners the trip from Town Hall to the fire hall—which is a mere five blocks—took more than an hour at the peak of the race.
Mayor Karin Terziano said that she understood the challenges that organizers face, and that while some of the affected residents will be understanding, others will not.
Councillor Brian Thompson noted that construction projects last year, created “a perfect traffic storm.” He also said he was pleased to see the Municipal Accommodation Tax fund being used to pay the event licensing fee.
Councillor Dione Schumacher questioned the timing of the event and wondered if it couldn’t be moved to another time of year.
Pilling replied that the Ironman organization has a strict world-wide schedule for its races to ensure that there isn’t overlap between races in close proximity to one another. He added that staff have asked race director, Nick Stoehr of Trisport Events, to see if there are other options, but that the dates have already been set for the duration of the Town’s current contract for the event.
Committee member Brian Crozier wondered about other events happening that weekend, including part of the Muskoka Cup baseball tournament, which is hosted by the Muskoka Hornets. “My thought process with King William being under construction this year, I’m just wondering what sort of closures might be there that we could have the perfect storm…where you have Brunel closed, you have part of King William closed and you have all these events going on.” He also noted that there are both churches and businesses in that area that would be affected.
Mayor Terziano added that perhaps contact should be made with residents immediately affected by the proposed road closure prior to approving the new route.
In response to a comment by director of community services, Lorrie O’Brien, that there is a plan in place for notifying residents well in advance of the event, Councillor Withey added, “To me that’s where the issue lies. We’re trying to approve something and then we’re going to go public. And I think that’s where we’re going to get the biggest backlash. I think that’s kind of backwards. I think we should try to mitigate by keeping people informed beforehand.”
Councillor Schumacher added the closure will also affect people trying to get to jobs, and Mayor Terziano reiterated the effect it would have on churches that may have few members of its congregation able to get to services.
Stoehr noted that in past years some churches have altered their service times to hold them later in the day or even on Saturday, and that Trisport has also suggested that they consider volunteering their time at the event—not-for-profit community organizations that provide volunteers are eligible to receive a donation from event coffers as thanks for their help.
Just before committee voted on the recommendation, Councillor Wiebe added, “As chair of this committee, I know that this is one of the topics that I find incredibly beneficial to our community and yet incredibly divisive.”
The new route was narrowly approved by committee with three members voting against—Mayor Karin Terziano, Councillor Tim Withey, and committee member Brian Crozier—while Councillors Dionne Schumacher and Brian Thompson and committee member Karen Cassian all voted in favour of the new route. Committee chair, Councillor Jonathan Wiebe, cast the deciding vote. The recommendation will be forwarded to Huntsville Council at its next meeting for ratification.
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!