Township council clashed over progress – or a lack of progress – on widening 208th Street in Willoughby again at its latest meeting.
On Monday, Dec. 14, Councillor Eric Woodward put forward a motion to get the Township moving on its plan to widen 208th Street from 76th Avenue to 70th Avenue, as well as portions of 72nd and 80th Avenues.
Woodward’s motion called for staff to create necessary bylaws and budget authority to buy up land and start widening the roads.
“As far as I can tell, this is probably the largest infrastructure issue in a significant part of the Township, to a significant number of people,” Woodward said.
He said it seemed the project was in “permanent purgatory,” and accused some councillors of treating the project as a “game.”
But half of the council wanted to refer Woodward’s project to the budget process for discussion there. The Township council is now in the middle of developing its budget for 2021, which involves determining which projects will get funding in the coming year.
Mayor Jack Froese held up a list of all the roads projects the Township has on its radar, which he noted total $55 million.
“I don’t think any one of these is any more important or any less important than any other,” Froese said.
“There’s a process that we have in place, it’s not a game,” the mayor added.
There is a funding mechanism in place for the 208th Street widening project, but right now, it doesn’t have any money, Township staff explained.
The program approved last spring, dubbed the Willoughby Arterial Road Completion Amenity Program (WARCAP) charges developers in the area $16.09 per square meter of developable land, and is intended to fund the road expansions.
But the money only comes in when a developer in that area has gone through the entire approval process and secured their final permissions, said Ramin Seifi, the Township’s director of engineering and community development.
Right now, there are developments in the planning phases that would contribute to WARCAP, but none of them have completed their approvals, so none of them have paid into the fund, Seifi said.
Although there is no money in the account, the Township is looking at whether it can acquire land, said Seifi.
“We are actively proceeding with discussions with landowners along those corridors… to determine whether they can be acquired at no cost, or if at some cost, what that cost would be,” Seifi said.
Council had varying views on whether to move forward more quickly on 208th Street.
“I’ve held the position all along that there isn’t an issue in Willoughby,” said Coun. Bob Long. “I don’t know that there’s tons of accidents we don’t know of or lives being lost.”
He said he wanted to stick with Vision Zero, referring to a goal of prioritizing the safety of pedestrians and cyclists on roads.
“We should say, yeah, this is a priority, we have to fix the roads in Willoughby,” Coun. Kim Richter said in support of moving forward.
She noted that development was going on extremely rapidly in the neighbourhood.
Coun. Petrina Arnason said that she supports widening the roads, but noted it is a matter of timing.
The attempt to refer the motion to the overall budget process failed on a four-four tie vote, as Coun. David Davis was not at the meeting. The motion also failed on a four-to-four tie vote.
Widening 208th Street from 64th Avenue to the 208th Street overpass has been a topic of debate at council for several years.
The current method of widening the road is to allow developers to expand it as they build along 208th, but that has left a road that ranges from two to four lanes at various portions north of 77A Avenue.
In 2018, a Township staff report estimated it would cost $83 million to widen the entire stretch of road because of the cost of buying up land and construction.