Right in the centre - It could be very simple


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

My former U of M professor said at a grad gathering to be wary of statistics. Being a good farm girl, she knew of what she spoke. She said, “A couple of statisticians were out rabbit hunting. They both spotted the same rabbit at the same time and each took a shot. One shot was two feet in front of the rabbit, one shot was two feet behind the rabbit. On average the rabbit was dead”.

Last week I wrote a column titled “It should never happen again”. I had one reaction that called it “trash”. I had one that disagreed with me and two who liked it. On the average, the column was OK I guess.

Last week’s column got me thinking more about what I said in it, “The farther away from the community-reality a decision is made, the worse the decision you get.” Right now, we have a lot of decisions being made by people who are totally unaffected by the decision. Case in point is the highway speed zone east of Neepawa on Hwy. 16. It needs to be reduced. Everybody who travels that piece of road knows that. In the past 20 years, the HyLife plant has expanded to 1,700 workers coming and going to the plant twice a day. I can remember when that approach was into a field that would have half a dozen vehicles a year pull in. There is a rental business on that stretch of road now, a Manitoba Hydro station, a machinery dealership and there will soon be an approach to a regional hospital. The speed limits need to be reduced.

The Town of Neepawa has made all the appropriate applications, but have been turned down. Turned down by whom, you may ask? By Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation (MIT). It used to be called Manitoba Highways, but the newer, more complicated title speaks volumes. Same task, but made to sound more important. The problem is the MIT staff will tell you that the Town of Neepawa, or any other town for that matter, is the traffic authority within their town. That is obviously not the case or the town decision to lower speed limits would have been implemented months, if not years ago. If (or more precisely when) there is accident or death on that stretch of road, will the MIT bigwigs take the heat, or the town?

Also, if the speeds change, the civil servants get paid. If the speeds don’t change, they still get paid. Besides, the longer the decision is kept out of local hands, the more studies get done and the more people, who are not affected by the decision, get paid to sit on their butt and pontificate. Either the towns are the traffic authority, or they are not. Clearly they are not and that is just plain wrong.

Let me explain just how dumb the process is. Around 2000, MIT fought hard against putting in traffic lights at the corner of Mountain and Hwy. 16 (Main Street) in Neepawa. Study after study was done and the answer always came back “No”. Then one day there was an accident on Mountain and MIT had to come out and check the location for proper signage, etc. The official in charge pulled into town from the west and, not unexpectedly, had to wait and wait for oncoming traffic to go through so he could to turn left onto Mountain Ave. Once it was he who was in danger and delayed in his travels, he was now affected by the lack of lights. The quote I heard was that he “Didn’t care what the traffic count studies said, we need lights at that corner.”

Some years later, with similar, but worse, problems at the junction of Hwy. 16 and Hwy 5 north, MIT officials were finally convinced to put in lights. With the earlier example in 2000, I was Mayor of Neepawa and was fully aware of both the need and the delays, so, along with council, had been pushing for change and it finally came. In the second instance, 10 years later, I was mayor again and was at a meeting where many suggestions were being turned down by MIT. In exasperation, I said, “You have to give us something to go home with.” The official said, “OK, we’ll put in traffic lights”. Those lights have likely saved lives at that very busy intersection.

The case of the speed zone changes mentioned above, in contrast to traffic lights, have almost no cost. It would be a matter of moving two to four signs. The delays are not needed, studies aren’t needed. Simple action is required, but simple action, even when it’s both cheap and obvious, doesn’t seem to be part of the MIT department’s abilities.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the Banner & Press staff.