MS & Q: Highway Crossing at the Hay River Regional Health Centre

health-centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I live at the end of the rail line. Now that the winter roads are open, every time I look out my window I see a lineup of super b’s waiting to fill up with fuel brought north via the railroad. As soon as one truck fills up, it heads down the highway and another one takes its place. I like to see that, because it means people are working. You know who doesn’t like seeing those trucks? Anyone walking to the new Hay River Regional Health Centre.

That’s because the Health Centre was built with absolutely no safe pedestrian access. Everybody who has to walk to the hospital – including seniors and parent’s with young children – has to dart across the highway at a point where there is no pedestrian crossing signals, no crosswalk, and not even enough light to assure anyone they’ll be seen by oncoming traffic. If they manage to dodge the super b’s and cross the highway safely, and luckily so far everyone has, they’ll make their way onto a road with no sidewalks or shoulders. From there, they have to traverse an uncontrolled rail crossing, make their way further down the road, and cross a parking lot before finally reaching safety. If they want to go home, they have to do the same thing.

Mr. Speaker, this is a serious public safety concern. For those who don’t drive, can’t get a ride, and can’t afford a cab, there is no choice but to walk to get where you’re going. In many cases those people are our elders, who are also the most frequent users of the health care system. In order to access an essential service, they are being placed in danger because of a failure in government planning.

We also have to consider the safety of the employees of the Health Centre, many of whom walk to work. If I mentioned this yesterday while WSCC was here, they might have tossed a couple Ministers in jail – that’s how serious this issue is.

Frankly, Mr. Speaker, I’m baffled that we built a hospital that is not safely accessible by foot. It was my understanding that we were supposed to have lights installed late last year. What happened? I know the Health Authority, and the Town of Hay River have been fighting hard to get the lights installed, but, as far as I know, the responsibility to do it lays with Public Works and Services.

Mr. Speaker, how much longer must our sick and elderly dodge traffic on a dark and often icy highway? We need the lights installed, and we need them 3 months ago. And while they’re at it, how about a sidewalk as well. I’ll have questions for the Minister of Public Works and Services at the appropriate time.

Questions

MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, earlier I spoke about the lack of signal lights, sidewalks, and adequate lighting at what has become the unofficial highway crosswalk to the Hay River Regional Health Centre. I keep an eye on all the RFPs that the government puts out, and last year I saw one stating that a crosswalk signalling system was supposed to be installed at that location by November 2016. We’ve seen nothing as of yet. For my first question, I would like to give the Minister a chance to explain why. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Masi. Minister of Public Works and Services.

HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In the fall of 2016, on this particular crosswalk, we had an RFP out and we had a low bid that came in well over budget of what was anticipated as the cost of installing this stuff. We are reviewing that right now, how we are going to move it forward. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SIMPSON: The Minister said they are reviewing it, so I am not sure if he will be able to answer this, but when can we expect some lighting to be installed?

HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: Moving forward, we anticipate to have this resolved, hopefully with either another tender or else negotiating how we are going to fit this in within our budget restraints of what we have allocated for this project. When we do move forward, we are going to have to wait for the ground to thaw out to be able to install this set of lights at the crossing.

MR. SIMPSON: That is a shame because the lights are most needed when it is dark out, in the winter. It sounds like we are going to have to wait until the spring. In the interim, I know the Minister is the Minister of Public Works. He is the Minister of Transportation. With all the resources of these two departments at his disposal, can the people in Hay 36 River South get some sort of temporary lighting system so that the Super Bs can see our grandparents crossing the highway on the way to the health centre? Can we get some sort of temporary measure in the meantime?

HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: As the Member is well aware, there is a ton of signage at this crosswalk. As is stated, there is lighting along the side of the highway. I am not trying to water down this request, but I will have to look into what we can do to put some kind of flashing light there in the meantime.

MR. SIMPSON: Mr. Speaker, Hay River was waiting a long time to get a Minister so we could get the kind of perks that Fort Smith and Inuvik have been getting.

—Laughter

So we are all waiting for that Minister to step up and make that happen. Related, like I mentioned, to get to the health centre you have to walk down a road with no sidewalks, not even any shoulders. When can we expect some other improvements in terms of sidewalks and controlled rail crossings at the health centre? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: As the Minister of Public Works and of Transportation, I have to look out for the good of all Northerners, not just Hay River. So much for the perks. The town of Hay River is working closely with CN Rail to obtain a safe crossing at the railway crossing, as well. Plus, the Town of Hay River has also had in their minutes that they are looking after their sidewalk along that side of the highway to get to this particular crosswalk. We will continue to work with all stakeholders, them, the health authority, the RCMP — the NTCL, no — the community, on how we’re going to proceed with this and get it going. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

—Laughter

Questions, Part 2

MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Earlier I spoke about the lack of lighting and signage signals at the highway crossing to the health centre in Hay River. The Minister said that there’s, “A ton of signs.” I just sent a scout out. There is one sign. This is a description of what the sign does, “To warn road users making a turn that they will encounter a highway/rail grade crossing soon after making a turn.” It says nothing about pedestrians. There are actually two signs. There’s another sign indicating that’s a new sign. There’s one of those coming from each direction. My point is there’s really nothing you can see from a distance. There’s not this barrage of signs that the Minister indicated. So can we get something? Can we get one of those solar-powered signs with words indicating, slow down, there might be pedestrians crossing here? Can we at least do that? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Masi. Minister of Public Works and Services.

HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. If I remember correctly, I said earlier today that I would look at putting some kind of lighting up there. So I will look into and get back to the Member. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SIMPSON: And when can the people of Hay River expect to see their new signage installed?

HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: Do you mean signage or do you mean lighting? Lighting, we’ve committed to having up here as soon as the ground thaws out. I have never said I was going to commit to new signage. I said we would look at putting up a temporary light to get us through until we can put the lighting system in once the ground thaws out, Mr. Speaker. Any relative signage that would be imposed on the highways is based on the Traffic Act that we have to impose and put up traffic signs there, so whatever needed signage is there will be in place when the lights are put up.

MR. SIMPSON: I’m glad we got a commitment to put some lighting up there. Now I’m looking for a commitment to put some additional signage up there so that people coming down the highway are aware that there are pedestrians possibly crossing.

HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: As I said, we’ll have to look into the Highway Traffic Act and, whatever signage is required to have with a lighting system that crosses the public highway, we will install it.

MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. So is the Minister content with inadequate signage at this point and the bare minimum signage at some point in the future as he’s committed to installing? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Friendly times. As I’ve said, I’ve committed to putting up a temporary lighting system there. We will look after any signage that is needed as per the Highway Traffic Act, and we will make sure that is in place as soon as possible.