The Comox Valley RCMP warn drivers to keep calm and give themselves extra time as they try to cross the Courtenay River during the Fifth Street Bridge work.
“They should plan an extra five or 10 minutes on their trip if they go that way (across the 17th Street Bridge from West Courtenay) any time during the day because it’s been getting backed up,” says Const. Don Sinclair. “Keep their calm and cool because it’s not going to get any better by getting mad.”
Deck work on the Fifth Street Bridge started this week, creating one-way traffic over the bridge to allow drivers to west Courtenay.
But, drivers travelling from the west side of town to the east must find an alternate route between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays — which is causing traffic congestion in the area around 17th Street and Cliffe Avenue as the extra influx of traffic tries to cross the 17th Street Bridge.
The Fifth Street Bridge work is expected to continue until around Sept. 20.
According to Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure spokesperson Jeff Knight, ministry engineering staff will check the lights at 17th Street and Cliffe Avenue on Monday, and will adjust the timing if it will help reduce the congestion.
Sinclair notes there’s been some minor accidents due to drivers not paying enough attention, and many drivers have been trying to make it across the intersection at 17th Street and Cliffe Avenue when they shouldn’t.
“They don’t have the room to make it across during the green and the yellow phase of the light and they’re figuring that they can make it on last portion of that,” he says. “Then they get stuck in the middle of the intersection blocking the traffic.
“In my personal vehicle I saw it happen yesterday (Wednesday) twice, but yeah, traffic is just horrendous. If you don’t have to go downtown or if you don’t have to be travelling over there, don’t do it.”
He points out the red light camera at this intersection is still working so drivers who try to beat the red light but fail may get a ticket.
He also notes traffic will likely worsen in just over a week when school starts and students are heading to and from school.
Courtenay director of operational services Kevin Lagan says the City received about 10 complaints Tuesday, which was the first full day of lane closure on the bridge. Those complaints were all addressed, he adds, but says traffic congestion may get worse before it gets better.
“We see that as probably getting a little worse before the public realizes that they need to modify maybe some of their transportation routes they’re taking,” he said. “The bottom line here is that the Fifth Street Bridge carries in the order of 20,000 to 25,000 vehicles a day and because access is basically denied between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to eastbound traffic, you have roughly 12,000 vehicles a day now having to find another way to get from West Courtenay to East Courtenay.”
As Lagan has mentioned before, the City chose to avoid night and evening work due to noise disturbances to nearby residences. He says the noise from equipment like jackhammers, air guns and generators would be intensified compared to regular roadwork because the work is suspended over water.
“Not only do you get the noise from the top (of the bridge), you get the noise reflected from the bottom off the water — it’s not a dulled noise, it’s a very loud noise,” explains Lagan. “So you get the noise emanating in all directions from the work.
“It’ll carry a very long distance. If you think about the ambient noise in the Valley after 5 o’clock at night it’s very quiet.”
He also points out the Department of Fisheries and Oceans regulations would allow the work to be done only in a small window of time, so it could not be completed during a less busy time of year.
Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association president Mark Middleton notes the DCBIA was consulted on the plan when the City was deciding how the work could be done with the least impact to drivers and residents.
“Given all the parameters, if you will, it’s the best of an unpleasant situation,” says Middleton, noting the DFO regulations and residential noise concerns. “The work has to be done on the bridge, it has to be done in a certain spot in the calendar, and so you know, we’ll make the best of it. The merchants are all open and eager to see everybody, and I’m confident that the City has done the best that they can to ensure that traffic does flow into the downtown.”
The work includes replacement of deck expansion joints and applying a corrosion resistant coating to the underside of the bridge. The project will also replace damaged concrete, increase skid resistance by roughening the existing surface, and seal the bridge deck.
Emergency vehicles may still use the bridge, and cyclists must dismount and use the sidewalk with pedestrians.