P.E.I. will become the first in Canada, says the province, to introduce drivers to what traffic engineers call a displaced left turn.
More than 45,000 vehicles funnel through the intersection at St. Peters Road and the bypass highway in Charlottetown every day, making it one of the busiest on the Island.
Stephen Yeo, chief engineer with the Department of Transportation, says the province had to make changes.
“We had traffic backed up in both directions here at times hundreds of metres,” Yeo said from the construction site at the busy intersection.
‘A lot more efficient and it’s safer’
The province studied many options, including a roundabout, an overpass as well as “jug handle” intersection.
Each of these options had various obstacles, but a Halifax consultant recommended the province take a closer look at the displaced left turn — which is widely used in Salt Lake City, Utah, a city of more than 200,000.
When Yeo and one of his engineers visited the U.S. city they were sold.
“The left turning traffic and the through traffic can go at the same time, so the intersection becomes a lot more efficient,” he said. “And it’s safer as well, because you don’t have that T-bone effect if somebody happened to not pay attention to the lights.”
The displaced left intersection can handle upwards of 125,000 vehicles, he said, and will allow a lot less idling time and wait times for vehicles.
So, how does it work?
Yeo said as long as drivers follow the pavement markings, read the overhead signs and obey the lights they “should not have any problem maneuvering through this intersection.”
Drivers wanting to make a left turn off the bypass onto St. Peters Road will veer into the left turning lane, the same as they always did.
As they approach the intersection, they will stop at a set of lights just before the main intersection. Drivers will then crossover to the opposite side of the road into an exclusive left-turn lane.
That exclusive left-turn lane, or displaced left turn, will then proceed up to the main intersection.
Power outages won’t be an issue at the intersection. There is a six-hour battery backup on the lights and dedicated generators on standby.
Right turns on red lights no longer allowed
But there will be one major change which Yeo said people “will have to get used to” and that is that drivers will no longer be allowed to turn right on a red light at the intersection.
The work will cost about $5.3 million, cost-shared between the provincial and federal governments.
It will open in mid-October.
But not before the province launches a series of educational videos to help Islanders get comfortable with the new intersection.
‘You gotta have eyes in the back of your head’
A couple of residents were split on the idea.
Sandra Birt, of Pisquid, is worried about the new intersection. Her local pharmacy is right on the corner.
“Oh my, oh my, you gotta have eyes in the back of your head coming in because it’s confusing, very confusing,” said Birt. “I said to my husband ‘You’re going to have to take me through this first, so I can get the hang of the new way of going.'”
But John Younker of Stratford said the province should have introduced the new intersection years ago to deal with the traffic backlog.
“It’s progression,” said Younker. “I have no issues with it at all. It’s going to take a little while to get used to, obviously, but I have no issues with it at all.”
‘We won’t be the only ones for long’
Next summer, the province plans to expand St. Peters Road to four lanes between the intersection east to MacWilliams Road, with an active transportation trail, and construct three more roundabouts along that section of road.
Yeo said the province is seriously considering a second displaced left turning lane at the intersection of the bypass and Malpeque Road, near the old Sears store.
He expects displaced left turn intersections to catch on across the country, because they are efficient and cheaper than some of the other options, like overpasses.
“I’m sure that the displaced lefts, we won’t be the only ones for long.”