JAMES O'CONNOR/BRANDON SUN
A driver breaks the law by going down the wrong side of 26th Street to access Pacific Avenue as a train sits for what had been about 15 minutes at that point one evening last week.
While it seems one piece of vitally needed infrastructure in Brandon is in the news almost daily, I’m going to pass over that bridge to discuss another bothersome bottleneck.
A mess of vehicles attempt to negotiate 26th Street and McDonald Avenue just after a train has passed last week. (JAMES O'CONNOR/BRANDON SUN)
The Eighth Street Bridge — one of the city’s few north-south routes — has been closed to vehicular traffic since a lateral support beam was hit by a privately owned five-ton garbage truck Jan. 14. That means extra traffic has been diverted to the three remaining routes.
While the city and province bicker over rebuilding the outdated three-lane Daly Overpass — it’s a provincial highway that goes from four to three lanes and back to four — the decrepit First Street bridge continues its slow decline into pothole purgatory. At least it’s still open to traffic.
But the latest traffic headache is at the 26th Street level crossing where the CP Rail main line can shut down traffic literally for up to half an hour several times a day. So what’s causing the problem? Well, before a dufus drove a large truck into a lateral support beam on the rickety Eighth Street Bridge — it’s a $40,000 repair job that’s set to begin later this month — the situation was bad enough.
There is a huge housing development just off 26th Street on Alaska Bay just south of the tracks. In addition, more housing is going up along McDonald Avenue. A previous city hall regime also decided to put the main fire hall in the wrong location causing more traffic — including emergency vehicles — to be in the general area of the crossing.
And with some large new subdivisions such as Brookwood being developed in the city’s southwest corner, a lot of folks wanting to get to the Corral Centre or the Trans-Canada Highway have started to use the 26th Street level crossing.
In addition, trains are much longer than they used to be. It’s a frequent site to see one or two freight cars at the end of a train sticking across 26th Street forcing an extended wait for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians as crews change over further east. Not too long ago, the entire train would fit nicely in the space between 26th Street and the crew changeover area.
Bottom line? Before Jan. 14 it was a busy crossing. Now it’s even worse.
The push to get more oil to refineries has also resulted in a lot more trains going back and forth along that main line.
You see, the oil has to get to the consumers. So while the tree-hugging eco-nuts block attempts to build new pipelines, we get stuck with more trains carrying the crude. How some of these modern-day hippies — or at-times grandstanding native leaders — think our industrialized world can operate on a few wind turbines and solar panels is beyond me. And a pipeline through wildernesss is a far safer method to transport fuel than a train through major metropolitan areas.
Such as along the McDonald/Pacific corridor in the Assiniboine neighbourhood of the Wheat City. Yeah, right where Casa O’Connor sits in all of its bachelor pad glory.
So sure, I have a personal stake in what can only be characterized as some poor city planning and some bridge cracking misfortune.
But then yesterday, things got potentially worse for a guy like me just trying to get home to feed his cat.
Ottawa is forcing Canada’s two main railway companies to double the amount of grain they ship in a week to try to unclog a transport bottleneck that has left piles of grain sitting in bins across the Prairies, The Canadian Press reported.
Now I have always had a deep fascination for trains and enjoy the location of my house as it allows me to watch them roll by from my favourite chair in my living room.
But when the crossing arms go down — either for a train moving through or one changing crews — things can get downright scary on both sides of 26th Street at the crossing.
Drivers routinely slide up the wrong side of the road to access Pacific Avenue. Many others decide to make illegal U-turns — to go where, I dunno — and others put their vehicles in park, shut them off and then become so engaged in their smartphones, they are oblivious to the fact the train has passed and they are holding up a long line of traffic.
So what’s the solution? Well, as the city continues to grow — with or without any apparent foresight about traffic patterns — there will need to be an underpass constructed on 26th Street under the CP Rail main line.
There really is no other option. And they are expensive.
Reading and hearing the almost daily stories about the asinine dance between the city and province over the clear-as-glass need for a four-lane Daly Overpass, I can only imagine how long it will take for anything to be done to ease a bothersome and potentially dangerous situation at the 26th Street level crossing.
And you’ll note I didn’t even get into the issue of what evil lurks in those tanker cars going through the city. That’s a topic for a column on another day.
Have a great weekend.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 8, 2014