New proposal for Hamilton extension floated

A new route for the Hamilton Boulevard extension is now being presented for public input with this sales pitch: it’s cheaper, less steep, less…

A new route for the Hamilton Boulevard extension is now being presented for public input with this sales pitch: it’s cheaper, less steep, less invasive and doesn’t require changes to First Nation land claims.

“Everybody’s probably wondering why we’re back here at the table,” said Quest Engineering’s Rick Savage Monday at the Yukon Transportation Museum.

 He was explaining, to an audience of about 10, the latest plan to extend Hamilton.

The answer for the re-route conundrum is future development.

After Kwanlin Dun First Nation settled its land claim in 2005, the road extension Whitehorse and the Yukon government planned to build in conjunction with Ottawa was hemmed in by land neither could develop.

Insert the sound of tires squealing here.

Worse, the small area for the road between the two Kwanlin Dun land selections wasn’t big enough.

“The road, as proposed, can’t be built on that right-of-way,” explained Savage.

Enter the new plan, which throws away proposals and public consultation completed in 2005, which, so far, has cost about $200,000 to prepare.

The new 3.8-kilometre route largely follows a land reserve the Yukon government created in 1991.

From Hamilton’s current terminus, the path turns gently to the southwest remaining east of Ice Lake but west of Lobird subdivision, before making an abrupt turn west to link up with the Alaska Highway and Robert Service Way.

There are several benefits to the new route, explained Savage.

Compared to the old four-kilometre plan, the new one has less extreme grades — reduced from up to eight per cent to about four per cent. For comparison, Two Mile hill is a 10-per-cent grade.

The new route is also shorter, avoids requiring any changes to the Rock Gardens near the Lobird subdivision and, most important, it’s a whole lot cheaper, said Savage.

It will also allow Whitehorse buses to use more logical routes to service the various residential areas east of the Alaska Highway, added Jeff Boehmer, the Yukon’s project manager for the extension.

Extending Hamilton has long been proposed on paper and maps. But despite public demand for the artery, dirt hasn’t been dug.

A topographical map included in a public information kit on the newest proposal displays five routes that have been proposed over the years.

“If there’s a fire, there’s no way out — we’re done,” one man, who asked to remain unnamed, said Monday, summing up general worries of residents along Hamilton.

And so Hamilton will be extended, as the current road is nearing its peak capacity and the lack of a second escape route raises safety concerns and ramps up political pressure.

The budget for the project is $15 million, paid for by Whitehorse, the Yukon and Ottawa through the municipal rural infrastructure fund.

Under the deal, Whitehorse will contribute a maximum of $3.5 million; Canada will provide $5 million, and the Yukon government will pay $6.5 million.

Ottawa finally approved its share on January 18.

But with a recent audit of Highways and Public Works revealing that road projects routinely have gone over budget and have been completed late, some at Monday’s meeting asked who would pick up the tab if the project estimates were exceeded.

“How confident are you we’re on budget for this project?” asked Whitehorse West MLA Elaine Taylor from the audience.

“We haven’t got far enough along to say with any real certainty,” replied Savage, noting the new route will probably be cheaper because less rock blasting is required.

Any cost overruns will likely have to be paid for by the Yukon, explained Taylor.

One man asked about noise from trucks using their engine brakes on the short, seven per cent grade that links the Alaska Highway with the proposed extension.

While sound is a worry, the incline’s proximity to the Rock Gardens will probably mean sound will be reflected off the rocks up and out of earshot, said Boehmer.

The proposed intersection above that incline also spurred questions.

Savage and Boehmer presented several options being considered for the intersection — either a multi-lane intersection, or a roundabout with two right-hand turn lanes to allow truck traffic on its way to Copper Ridge or to the Alaska Highway from the McLean Lake area to avoid stopping.

A trucker in the audience praised the new route — as the old one had a blind spot — but chided the traffic circle idea.

“It sure looks great, except for that damn traffic circle,” he said, questioning if traffic circles are as safe as intersections.

“I feel the roundabout isn’t going to be an inconvenience; you’re going to have to slow down (at the intersection) anyway,” said Savage.

Studies have found the severity and rate of vehicle accidents are reduced when traffic circles are used instead of intersections, he said.

And for a project on a tight budget, the deal-breaker may be traffic lights, estimated to cost $250,000.

A traffic circle doesn’t need lights, said Savage.

Many at the meeting were aware that down the road at Whitehorse council, a decision was being announced on the proposed McLean Lake concrete batch plant.

Council later approved a rezone that allows the batch plant to go ahead.

But the effects on traffic on the Hamilton extension would be zero unless proposed route changes to the McLean Lake road are approved.

Currently, the road links to the Highway south of Robert Service Way. A proposal is on the books to link the road to the Hamilton extension, but isn’t part of the $15 million budget, said Savage.

Will the multi-use trail that parallels Hamilton be continued for cyclists and pedestrians? another man asked.

“Not as far as this project goes, unless there’s some significant savings found,” replied Savage. “It’s going to be dependent on the budget.”

Boehmer added that, with or without the trail, the new road would have wide shoulders.

Questions were raised about changes to traffic patterns the extension might cause.

Studies have estimated about 60 per cent of residents living along Hamilton Boulevard will continue to make their way downtown along Two Mile Hill, with about 40 per cent expected to use the new extension and Robert Service Way, said Savage.

Asked if the roundabout near the SS Klondike at the southern end of downtown Whitehorse can handle the increased traffic the extension is expected to create, Boehmer said he had no idea.

The extension will not be built with water and sewer services because residential development of the area isn’t expected for 20 or 30 years, said Savage.

The new intersection and road link will also spell the end of the current road leading from the Alaska Highway to Lobird, he said. A new link to the subdivision will sprout off the new extension.

The road could be paved in asphalt or chip seal, he told the audience Monday, adding that chip seal is about one quarter as expensive.

The city and Yukon government are hoping to have a clearing contract tendered by the fall of 2007, and possibly some rock blasting and construction over the winter.

But before that goes ahead, the public consultation for the project will have to be completed.

Members of the public can attend Thursday’s meeting or fill out forms available online at the city’s website.

A second public meeting to solicit input on the project will run at Yukon Transportation Museum on Thursday at 7 p.m.