Residents of Steinbach’s Clearspring Greens neighbourhood packed city hall Tuesday in the hopes of accelerating plans for an active transportation pathway that would enable them to walk or cycle to and from the city’s downtown in a safer manner.
Dozens of homeowners filled the council chamber until it was standing room only, and more occupied the lobby, to support fellow resident Morley Fast, who appeared before council to advocate for the pathway.
"We don’t want to be jerks about this, but we don’t want to wait," Fast said. "I want to know why you’re stalling."
Referencing a near-collision last month between a vehicle and child cyclist on Old Tom Road, and increased traffic volumes since the city paved the road in 2016, Fast argued safety concerns alone warrant an expedited timeline for the project.
Resident Bill Rempel agreed, saying more parents would allow their children walk or cycle to school if there was a dedicated pathway for them to use.
"When is the shovel going to hit the dirt?" Rempel asked.
Mayor Earl Funk told the large crowd that council wasn’t stalling, but simply couldn’t find funds for the project in its 2019 budget.
The project doesn’t qualify for the city’s recreation reserve fund, Funk later explained, nor is it eligible for provincial grants. Instead, the city must use a local improvement levy and its small annual sidewalk budget to fund the project, as development fees for pathways weren’t collected when the neighbourhood was built 12 years ago.
Council and city engineers are working on a plan, Funk assured the group, but had to keep the details under wraps in case land purchases are required. The price could skyrocket if word gets out about possible parcels under consideration, Funk said.
"We want to give the best deal to the neighbourhood, (and) to taxpayers."
He added he hoped to have more details to share after council’s November study session.
"We appreciate your passion and will continue to work on it," Funk said.
Fast suggested land purchases could be avoided by installing a sidewalk along the west side of Old Tom Road, where even heavy rainfalls don’t fill the ditch.
That idea is dicey from a drainage perspective, the mayor later told The Carillon, as the entire road allowance is already paved for vehicular traffic.
"If we take away from the ditch, and we have a bad rain event and we have homes flooded, that $2 million sidewalk becomes a $50 million catastrophe."
In the meantime, Funk said the city will use its newfound authority to set speed limits on municipal roadways to lower Old Tom Road’s to 60 km/h from 70 km/h. The change won’t take effect until sometime this fall, city manager Troy Warkentin said.
Councillor Susan Penner asked neighbourhood residents to be patient, noting many city projects now underway were five to 10 years in the making.
But some residents said they’ve already been lobbying for a sidewalk for several years, and worry a child will be hit and killed before a pathway is built.