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Motorists forced to detour around the Whitney Pier overpass expressed frustration over the resulting delays on the first day of the viaduct’s temporary closure.
But it didn’t take long for city hall to hear those complaints and implement immediate action in an effort to improve the rush-hour traffic flow.
The situation began when the 700-metre viaduct that connects the Pier with the rest of Sydney was closed on Monday to accommodate work crews who are expected to take five to six weeks to repair and smooth over the rough and bumpy surfaces of the 60-year-old structure’s two bridges.
Michelle Wilson was among the hundreds of motorists who hit the road Monday morning unaware of the delays awaiting them on the commute from Whitney Pier to the other parts of Sydney and beyond.
“I dropped the kids off at school at about 8:35 and it was 9:30 when I got to work,” said Wilson, of the drive that would normally take less than 10 minutes.
“I’m a people watcher and while I was sitting there on Lingan Road I noticed that lots of drivers were getting frustrated. In fact, many of them were so frustrated they turned around which probably helped me get to work a bit faster.”
Cape Breton Regional Municipality councillor Jim MacLeod, who represents the area, said his phone and email started to blow up early in the morning as residents of Whitney Pier and surrounding locations found themselves funnelled into lengthy queues on the stretch of Lingan Road that intersects the Sydney Port Access Road (SPAR). It’s at that junction that motorists have the option of turning right to the Ferry Street access to downtown Sydney or left up the SPAR to Grand Lake Road and Highway 125.
“The phone was ringing off the hook with people complaining about the delays and wanting to know what we were going to do to make it better,” recounted MacLeod, who is a longtime advocate of the overpass’ replacement and of improved transportation routes in and out of the working-class neighbourhood.
MacLeod said he even heard there were a few arguments between frustrated motorists. However, this scribe cut into the long lineup several times and each time was welcomed in by patient and accommodating drivers.
Blaine Campbell, owner/operator of Broadway Auto, said he left his Coxheath home early enough to avoid the bottleneck at the Lingan/SPAR junction.
“If it gets too bad, I would consider taking Lingan Road the other way toward River Ryan and around that way,” said Campbell, who wondered if there might be other temporary options for traffic headed into central Sydney.
“Maybe there is some way through the coal piers area at the end of Dominion Street here in the Pier, maybe a temporary road.”
Although motorists are encouraged to use the CBRM-suggested Henry Street/Lingan Road detour, lower Victoria Road remains open to local residential and commercial traffic.
At the overpass end, Umar Adeyemo worked the counter at the Canadian Tire Gas+ station. He glanced out at the normally busy main thoroughfare and the few cars fueling up at the pumps.
“We’re aware of what is happening, but it is too soon to say how it will affect us here – we’re going to wait a few days to see how it goes,” said Adeyemo.
Indeed, the flow of traffic was increased not long after the complaints began rolling into city hall. CBRM public works manager John Phalen said it didn’t take his department long to hear about the bottleneck on Lingan Road.
“The traffic was backed right up the hill on Lingan Road halfway to the old radar base,” he acknowledged.
“But by 8:30 our traffic lights contractor was on the scene and they extended the green light time period for people coming off Lingan and onto SPAR Road so that got rid of the backlog fairly quickly.”
Phalen noted that the traffic lights in question had been programmed for heavier SPAR Road traffic. He added that the timing of the lights and the traffic flow will be monitored over the next few days.
Meanwhile, emergency units such as fire trucks, ambulances and police vehicles can use the nearby, but yet-to-open, so-called “Road to Nowhere” that once open will connect with Lingan Road at the SPAR junction.
Phalen confirmed that security is on the scene and will immediately remove the small barrier now in place to allow emergency vehicles to pass through. That road is expected to open soon.
And, he said, signs are being erected in communities beyond Whitney Pier, such as New Waterford, to advise motorists to take the Gardiner Mines/Grand Lake roads route.