Vehicles wait for traffic to pass so they can turn onto the Alaska Highway from Hillcrest Drive in Whitehorse on Nov. 9. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Until there’s a traffic light ‘we’re not going to stop’: Hillcrest Community Association president

A petition signed by 22 people was tabled in the legislative assembly on Nov. 8

A Hillcrest Community Association petition, tabled in the House on Nov. 8 and signed by 22 people, calls for a traffic light to be installed at Hillcrest Drive and the Alaska Highway by 2020.

The dangers there have gotten worse as more time has elapsed, Shaunagh Stikeman, the association’s president, told the News.

“Right now, there’s no way to get across that highway, unless to do a chicken run and run through the traffic to cross,” she said, noting that she’s seen elementary school children doing so.

“It’s been years since we’ve been asking for a traffic light. In 2016, it was probably the most important election issue in our riding.”

The matter was brought up in question period that day, with NDP Leader Liz Hanson repeatedly asking when the Yukon government will deliver traffic lights to make the crossing safe.

Three reports referenced in the petition call for improvements in the vicinity and traffic lights to be installed.

“This isn’t only about what the Hillcrest Community Association wants; it is something that is evidence-based,” Hanson said.

Richard Mostyn, minister of the Department of Highways and Public Works, routinely called the area around the corridor “complicated,” requiring well-formulated planning.

He acknowledged residents’ concerns.

The Alaska Highway corridor functional plan from 2015, which included plans to widen parts of the highway, has been “taken off the table,” he said, noting that Yukoners didn’t want it.

A 2018 YESAB plan, however, which came out recently and also calls for traffic lights and a crosswalk to be put in, will be applied to planning processes, Mostyn said.

The third report calling for a traffic light at the intersection is the City of Whitehorse’s Bicycle Network Plan, which was adopted in 2018, according to the petition.

Stikeman said she “disagrees” with Mostyn’s assertion the matter is complicated.

“It’s a highway, it needs improvement and it needs a traffic light. There’s nothing complicated about that,” she said.

She said it’s time to streamline the planning process and act quickly, as vehicle traffic – activity in general — has grown rapidly in the area causing more stress for pedestrians and those using active modes of transportation.

“This isn’t just a Hillcrest issue,” she said. “It really affects everyone in the city,” adding that some residents living above the highway commute through the corridor to reach the city’s core, while those living downtown use it to get to the airport.

After question period, during a press scrum, Mostyn said YG improvements to the Alaska Highway have been signed-off on — that it’s “certainly in the five-year plan.”

As soon as this legislative assembly session ends, he said, the government will begin the budgeting process for 2019/2020.

“We’re going to look at which projects get approved and which don’t,” Mostyn told reporters. “I can tell you that there’s far more projects on the list than we have money to do, so we’re going to have some really tough conversations …”

“I’m not saying that this is one of the ones that’s going to get shuffled. I’m not sure yet,” he added.

Traffic lights are not things to be installed “willy-nilly,” Mostyn said.

“You could just fast and loose throw in a traffic light, but that’s not what this about. Traffic lights aren’t cheap. We’re going to do the work. We’re going to do it properly, we’re going to make sure that corridor is safe.”

But Stikeman is concerned about the dangers pedestrians are facing now, she said, noting that there have been numerous near misses of both cyclists and pedestrians, one serious vehicle accident and a few smaller accidents that she can call to mind.

Mostyn said there haven’t been many accidents in the area, fortunately.

“You have to be careful, but it’s not that onerous to cross the street, but there are issues there,” he said.

Stikeman said it’s great news there might be something in the budget for planning purposes, “but until they actually break ground and build a traffic light, we’re not going to stop.

“I think it really calls into question what are our priorities here: is it to encourage active modes of transportation? I hope so. Is it to ensure that we get home safely at the end of the day? I hope so.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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