MLA grills minister about no pedestrian crossing to hospital

NNSL file photo A truck on Highway 2 drives past the entrance to the Hay River Regional Health Centre.

NNSL file photo
A truck on Highway 2 drives past the entrance to the Hay River Regional Health Centre.

The lack of a pedestrian crossing on Highway 2 in front of the new Hay River Regional Health Centre has been raised in the legislative assembly but cabinet says a solution is on the agenda.

Hay River North MLA Rocky (R.J.) Simpson told the legislature on Feb. 7 that the health centre was built with absolutely no safe pedestrian access.

“Everybody who has to walk to the hospital, including seniors and parents with young children, has to dart across the highway at a point where there are no pedestrian crossing signals, no crosswalk, and not even enough light cast on the highway from nearby streetlights to assure anyone that they’ll be seen,” he said. “If they manage to dodge the Super B’s and cross the highway safely, and luckily so far everyone has, then they’ll make their way onto a road with no shoulders and no sidewalk. From there, they have to traverse an uncontrolled railroad crossing and make their way further down the road with no sidewalks and through a parking lot before they finally reach safety. If they want to get home, they have to do the same thing again.”

Simpson called the situation a serious public safety concern.

The MLA said some people don’t drive, can’t get a ride, or can’t afford a cab, and have to walk to get where you’re going.

“In many cases, those people are our elders and often the most frequent users of the health-care system,” he said. “In order to access an essential service, they’re being placed in danger because of a failure in government planning. We also have to consider the safety of the employees at the health centre, many of whom walk to work.”

Simpson said he’s “baffled” that a hospital was built without being safely accessible by foot.

Plus, he noted his understanding is that some lights were to be installed last year.

“What happened?” he said. “I know the health authority in the town of Hay River has been fighting hard to get the lights installed, but as far as I know the responsibility lays with Public Works and Services.”

In questions to Public Works and Services Minister Wally Schumann, Simpson asked about a government request for proposals (RFP) last year to install a crosswalk signalling system at the location by November 2016.

“We’ve seen nothing as of yet,” he said.

Schumann – the MLA for Hay River South, which is the electoral district containing the hospital – explained the lowest bid for the work came in well over budget, and the matter is currently being reviewed.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Nothing that Schumann is also the minister of Transportation, Simpson asked about some sort of temporary lighting system in the meantime.

Schumann responded there is “a ton of signage” at the crosswalk, and 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,” the minister added.

Simpson countered there are no signs advising motorists of pedestrians crossing the highway.

“Can we get one of those solar-powered signs with words indicating slow down, there might be pedestrians crossing here?” he asked. “Can we at least do that?”

Schumann said any new signage on the highway would be based on the Highway Traffic Act and will be in place when the lights are put up.

The minister said his departments will work closely with the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, the RCMP and the Town of Hay River to address the issue.