Tom Bernard is willing to do whatever it takes to protect the Howard Watson Trail from more urban encroachment.
“I’m prepared to lay across the trail when they come with the bulldozers,” the Sarnia resident says.
Bernard was responding to Sarnia’s plan to extend The Rapids Parkway beneath Highway 402 and connect it to Exmouth Street, covering over what is now nature trail with asphalt.
At a public meeting in February, City Hall revealed for the first time what such a plan might look like. It proposed two options, both of which morph the trail into a concrete sidewalk on either side of the new road.
In Option A, the trail is flush with the roadway beneath the overpass. In Option B, the trail is separated from the sidewalks by a strip of grass.
David Jackson, the city’s manager of development and transportation, said the public so far favours Option B.
Planted vegetation or sound buffers could mitigate the effect of road traffic even more, he said.
“It generally got positive feedback. The community recognizes this stretch of the trail will be urban.”
Many residents have strongly opposed the road extension, but Jackson said it’s inevitable.
A study conducted last fall found a need to relieve traffic congestion in the Quinn Drive, Exmouth St. and Lambton Mall Road area. And the road link is needed for residents living in the Rapids Parkway area, he said.
When that will happen will be determined by the province. They must first rehabilitate the highway underpass. It could take as long as five years, Jackson said.
The first phase, however, will get underway in 2019 when the existing watermain at its current dead-end on Rapids Parkway will be extended beneath Highway 402 and connected with the Quinn Drive watermain. The sanitary sewer will also be rerouted.
Parts of the trail may be closed temporarily for the watermain work, Jackson said, adding some vegetation could be removed.
But Bernard, who has lived in the Wiltshire area 30 years, isn’t impressed. The situation the city finds itself in with the Rapids Parkway was the result of poor planning, he said.
“The option (B) is not a trail,” Bernard said, adding Sarnia is going against the grain of what other Canadian cities are doing.
“Cities everywhere are trying to achieve more green space and we’re eliminating it,” he said.