If Athabasca could have only one “high collision area” sign, it would be placed at the intersection of Highway 55 and Wood Heights Road. The A&W intersection. The intersection has been in and out of the news for repeated traffic accidents, most of them since the opening of the A&W, and the subdivision north of the highway. We’ve all heard about the damage left in the aftermath of an impatient driver, or distracted driver.
Many people have suggested a traffic light at that intersection, and it’s been given consideration by the town. However, the highway is under the jurisdiction of Alberta Transportation. Alberta Transportation did their own study, and concluded that the grade of the hill was to great to have traffic lights stationed at the top. They were concerned it would be difficult for large transport trucks to start moving again once they had come to a full stop on the hill, particularly in the winter. They may be right. It seems unreasonable to expect logging trucks to chain up before climbing out of the Athabasca valley.
The placement of this intersection most likely was not meant to handle the volume of traffic which travels on these roads on a daily basis.
The creation of the Al-Pac mill, the mass amounts of oilfield traffic traveling through Athabasca have all added to the headache. For all that they drive the economy, they also wear down the roadways, and increase traffic. The debacle around the bridge may have been considerably delayed without them. School buses compound the problem, piling into cornwall before and after school, to collect and drop off children. The hill and the intersection combine to create blind spots, and in a 70 zone it doesn’t take much extra speed to make that an issue. The traffic comes with a cost, and there is fairly little the town or county can do about it. Their jurisdiction has limits. In hindsight, they might have anticipated this when zoning the new housing, and businesses, on the north side of that highway. Recognizing that the highway was out of their control, they could have planned for what was: development. They could also manipulate traffic flows in other ways, such as the placement of one way streets in the area, to discourage left hand turns.
Many local drivers claim to avoid left hand turns at the intersection; like the difficulties around approaching the highschool hill during the school rush, this has become common knowledge. Instead, people travel to the Canadian Tire intersection, a largely cleaner corner. Others have suggested turning 34th street into a one-way street, and placing lights at the Canadian Tire access… pushing traffic to that intersection, and regulating it to accomodate the new traffic. That is, with the approval of the provincial departments concerned. That might be a solution. The area north of highway 55 is only expanding… with hundreds of acres for sale for commercial development, unsold lots in the subdivisions, and municipal plans that include expansion around the bridge. As the town grows, the traffic is only going to get worse.
These conversations become As the snow begins to fall, Athabasca roads become even more treacherous with stopping distances get shorter. On a nice summer day accidents are narrowly avoided all over town. With ice forming on the pavement, those accidents are not as easily avoided. Early winter is accident season, and everyone knows it. We’ve got a trouble spot, and the province isn’t likely to notice right away… we hear they have other things on their mind. The town has some jurisdiction, and they should consider using it before lives are lost. One way or another, that intersection has to be fixed.