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Changes to Main Street have led to improved safety, contributed to population growth now that Trans-Canada Highway no longer runs through the town, officials say
Mayor Minerva McCourt looks out at the road that was once the Trans-Canada Highway and likes what she sees.
Not quite a year after the new bypass highway diverted traffic from her town, there’s a new look to the municipality. Passing lanes have disappeared (along with the speeding vehicles that went with them), traffic is no longer buzzing through a subdivision to get to an elementary school, there are new roads everywhere and the former Trans-Canada Highway has been renamed Main Street.
Most importantly, McCourt says, the changes have made the town safer.
“You don’t feel like you’re going to be rear-ended turning into your driveway. It’s also much quieter,’’ she says as she takes a Guardian reporter on a tour to highlight how progress has not bypassed this town of more than 5,300 people.
The mayor is referring to the passing lanes that used to exist at two locations in the municipality – by the Terry Fox Complex and the Cornwall Town Hall. Those passing lanes are now left-turning lanes.
Check out some highlights of Cornwall's new Main Street with this interactive map:
It's part of a vision the town has been working on for Main Street for more than a decade, but change has skyrocketed since the Trans-Canada Highway no longer runs through the heart of the community.
One of the long-awaited changes is a dedicated entrance off Main Street into the Terry Fox Complex and Eliot River Elementary School. That has taken the pressure off the subdivision behind Your Independent Grocer. Residents have complained about the traffic on Hilltop Drive for years. A gate now blocks traffic from accessing the school or sports complex. The gate will be opened only for school buses now.
The province has also helped the town address some traffic concerns with accessing the APM Centre and the town hall by building a new road off Main Street. In the past, traffic had to turn left at the lights at the John Street/Kellow Drive intersection to get to the two buildings.
However, there is now an access road off Main Street that connects to Mercedes Drive, which runs adjacent to the town hall, and work is underway on a new entrance to the town hall.
“The APM Centre and the town hall weren’t able to get access to Main Street when it was the Trans-Canada Highway,’’ said Dean Lewis, the town’s manager of planning and development. “Now … we’re able to get the access ... and you don’t have to go down to the lights anymore.’’
McCourt, who lives on the renamed Main Street, said safety was one of the reasons the new road was built.
“Now, the traffic goes much slower (on Main Street), and it removes all of the traffic from going in on John Street (and) Lowther Drive.’’
“It pulls a lot of traffic off those streets,’’ Lewis said, pointing to some of the planning maps in his office in Cornwall Town Hall.
Construction is also now underway on a new entrance to the town hall off Mercedes Drive to take some of the pressure off the existing entrance to both buildings.
Traffic turning onto Mercedes Drive can now swing all the way over to Ferry Road. A roundabout has been built that connects Mercedes Drive with Hillside Meadows Drive. And, residential construction in the area is moving at a robust pace.
Due to this construction, the town had to remove the skateboard park, playground and dog park, but plans are already underway to bring back all three around the town hall in what will become a common area. The disc golf was previously moved to the Terry Fox Complex.
Coming in 2021 will be a new access road and exit for the subdivision across Main Street. Currently, there are two ways into that subdivision, via the lights at John Street and Kellow Drive and an entrance-only at Lorrie Drive.
In a conversation with the town’s administrative officer, Kevin Coady said they expect the province to begin construction next spring on a road off of the lighted intersection at Main Street and W.B. MacPhail Drive (entrance to the industrial park) that will lead to the subdivision.
Coady said the new road will link up to Jessie Drive.
Construction is also underway on an active transportation path along Main Street. By the end of this year, people will be able to cycle and walk from the roundabout to John Street in Cornwall.
Lewis added the work is underway on trail projects throughout the town with the idea of connecting everything to Main Street.
Also planned is a $3-million wellfield project (funded by all three levels of government) across from the Terry Fox Complex on Main Street.
Lewis said the 47-acre site will be home to four new wells that will be located about 1.2 kilometres off the street.
“These are all good things to see happening in the community,’’ McCourt said with plenty of town pride. “We’re heading in the right direction.’’
The town is currently undergoing a review of its official plan with the ultimate goal of ensuring the zoning and development bylaw will allow for more urban and commercial development on Main Street.
Business owners say COVID had bigger impact than bypass
The owner of a Cornwall business says the new bypass highway hasn’t hurt business as much as some originally thought it would.
Fadi Rashed, who runs Sam’s Restaurant, said some of the speculation over the years was that traffic through the heart of the town would drop by as much as 50 per cent.
“I was worried how it was going to affect us,’’ Rashed admitted. “But, I haven’t noticed a big decrease. The road (Main Street) still seems fairly busy.’’
Rashed said worries over the bypass are just a distant memory now. His big concern this year has been trying to survive the pandemic.
Once health restrictions were put in place in March, his business was restricted to take-out service. But, business remained robust.
Rashed said support from the community has been beyond his wildest expectations, pointing out that it’s proof the town can sustain businesses.
“There is fantastic support in Cornwall . . . but the fall will be the test.’’
For now, business is booming thanks to Burger Love, which is running a few months late this year due to COVID-19.
“It’s been busier than I expected,’’ he said. “It’s nuts; it’s crazy. I haven’t been cutting back on any of the shifts.’’
Aaron Abbott, the cook at Decker’s Dairy Bar and Grill on Main Street, said they haven’t noticed much of a change in business since the bypass highway opened last October.
“We’ve had a really good summer,’’ Abbott said.
Abbott said he has noticed a slight drop in traffic but it’s hard to say whether that is due to the new highway or COVID-19.
Regardless of the challenges, Abbott said development has been skyrocketing in the town during the past few years, a sure sign that sunny days are ahead.
“Thank God there is so much construction."
Bethany Halman, owner of the Sunny King Motel on Centennial Drive, said while the new highway has had a minor effect on her business, COVID-19 has been the big challenge.
Halman said she is renting out rooms mostly on a monthly basis because the tourists aren’t there.
“I have had a few people say they’ve had a hard time finding me (from the new highway), but most people use their GPS and are getting to me,’’ Halman said, who added that she can count the number of tourists who have stayed at the hotel this year on one hand.
The hotel owner also points to the amount of construction taking place in Cornwall as significant for businesses in the town.
“Thank God there is so much construction,’’ Halman said.