The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) is asking the Yukon government for more information about its choice to locate the territory’s first francophone high school in Riverdale, and its potential effect on emergency access in and out of the neighbourhood.
“There have been many comments made to YESAB regarding the current traffic issue in Riverdale. There are also concerns about safety and access to routes into and out of Downtown Whitehorse,” the Feb. 22 information request reads.
To proceed with the project evaluation, YESAB is asking the Department of Education to submit a “more detailed analysis of alternatives to the project – (i.e. why the Riverdale site was chosen over all alternatives) as well as alternative ways of undertaking or operating the project (e.g. alternative ways for students to access the school, such as a drop off site on the other side of the river).”
The board also brought up a traffic impact assessment report that was added to the project proposal earlier this month.
The report projects that the southbound left turning lane at Lewes Boulevard and Hospital Road will be over capacity by 2024.
The school’s proposed location on the site of the old F.H. Collins Secondary School would see it located on Lewes Boulevard between the Hospital Road and Alsek Road intersections.
The report also observes “significant northbound queuing due to downstream (north of Hospital Road) capacity constraints” during the morning peak hour.
Alicia Debreceni, a Department of Highways and Public Works spokesperson, confirmed to the Star earlier this month that the Robert Campbell Bridge across the Yukon River is the site of the referenced capacity constraints.
YESAB made the same interpretation, and asked how this will affect ambulance access to and from Riverdale, and to the Whitehorse General Hospital from the downtown area.
The YESAB request for additional information was preceded by a flurry of public comments on the project related mainly to traffic issues that already plague Riverdale that the francophone school could exacerbate.
The neighbourhood already hosts five schools, one pointed out.
“The currently-existing traffic problems in Riverdale at the beginning and end of the school day are well-known,” another says.
“It causes hundreds of Riverdale residents (those who drive) to sit in traffic for an extra 20 minutes ... It also causes school buses and transit buses to be significantly late, or to take unreasonable amounts of time to get to their destinations/next stops.”
Another questioned if YESAB had considered emergency evacuation from the neighbourhood in assessing the project proposal.
Yet another suggested that “minimally, road infrastructure must be improved sufficiently to meet the increased demand.
“An even more responsible approach would be to completely reconsider the location of the school.”
In its original project proposal, posted to the YESAB site Jan. 2, the Department of Education explained that the Yukon Francophone School Board identified the Riverdale site in 2016 as its preferred location for the new school.
“After an extensive review of the possible site options,” the current Yukon Liberal government determined that this location was the most viable.
Building on the site of the old F.H. Collins school, and beside the current F.H. Collins school, will allow the government to take advantage of pre-existing underground infrastructure, and “other efficiencies” like the fibre optic cable network and phone, TV and bell systems.
In a Feb. 9 letter posted to the YESAB project page, project manager David Greer briefly explained the government’s rationale for rejecting the following alternative sites: École Émilie-Tremblay Education Reserve Site, Porter Creek Secondary School Education Reserve Site, the skateboard park in Riverdale and Whistle Bend.
But YESAB said it needs a more fulsome explanation.
“The Designated Office acknowledges that general statements were submitted about alternative sites ... however, YESAB requires a more in-depth analysis regarding why the Riverdale site was chosen.”
The City of Whitehorse also submitted comments to YESAB regarding the project proposal.
Mike Gau, the city’s director of development services, pointed out that a “disproportionate number of schools are located in Riverdale.
“While the city recognizes the value of having schools in neighbourhoods, the planned location of ‘regional’ schools, being schools that receive students from all over the city, cause much of the congestion on Lewes Boulevard.”
While the city takes no issue with building a francophone school or another regional school, Gau wrote, it asks that resulting traffic impacts be “a considerable planning consideration.”
Gau also brought up the fact that the traffic impact assessment report commissioned for the project recommended the city consider providing more capacity across the Yukon River.
This could involve widening the existing Robert Campbell Bridge, or constructing an additional bridge.
Assistant city engineer Taylor Eshpeter told the Star earlier this month that the city has no plans at present to act on either of these suggestions.
“Increasing road capacity is typically costly and encourages more single occupancy vehicle trips,” the city’s YESAB submission reasoned.
It referenced the city’s current city wide transportation study and transportation demand management plan, which emphasizes “optimizing existing networks and reducing vehicle demand” through fewer single occupancy vehicle trips, more active transpiration modes, and improved transit service. It also suggested the Yukon government step up its efforts regarding transportation demand management in Riverdale.
Debreceni confirmed this morning that the government intends to provide YESAB the information it has requested. It will work to do so before the March 22 deadline YESAB has set out.
The francophone high school project, as currently proposed, has a $27.5 million price tag. It’s slated for completion by November 2020, and will be built to hold 150 students, according to the Department of Education.