Question to ponder: How important is safety?

The Smart Centres plaza in Sarnia on Quinn Drive, which boasts retail giants Wal-Mart, Michael's and PetSmart to name just a few, is probably the most frequented, traversed shopping centre in the city.

That said, it's only reasonable to expect that when it comes to public safety, every available measure and contingency was taken during the planning and construction phases of the project.

Here's the problem.

Ask yourself, what would happen if, in the event of an emergency, Quinn Drive was shut down and vehicles couldn't exit the property?

This is exactly the question we asked local and provincial officials recently.

Sarnia City Engineer André Morin said in an interview that the municipality recognizes the issue and, under a newly funded city-wide transportation master plan in the works, Quinn Drive is specifically one of the matters being reviewed and discussed.

"They've identified key areas that need attention or resolution, Quinn Drive is one of them," Morin said.

At present, there's only two access points to and from the shopping plaza, both of them on Quinn Drive.

Smart Centres media spokesperson, Sandra Kaiser, said that the access to this site was approved by both the City of Sarnia and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation prior to construction.

"We are not aware of any traffic difficulties at this shopping centre," said Kaiser.

Officials have said that potential alternative access points out of the Smart Centres plaza already discussed have respectively included possible exits onto Highway 402, Highway 40, and Exmouth Street. However, for reasons that involve either regulatory walls or traffic safety concerns, none of these contingencies were approved.

Ontario's Ministry of Transportation weighed in and pointed out that access to provincial highways, such as Highways 402 and 40, are restricted to municipal road intersections and interchanges.

Karen Crawford, a regional spokesperson for MTO, said in an e-mail, "Early in the planning process, the Ministry of Transportation advised the developer and the City of Sarnia that direct access onto Highway 402 and Highway 40 would not be permitted under the Public Transportation and Highway Improvement Act."

Crawford added that after the first phase of development (which was the construction of Wal-Mart), the Ministry and the city were approached by the developer about a potential new access to Exmouth Street in close proximity to the Highway 40/London Line interchange.

After review, this proposal was denied based on safety and traffic concerns.

Crawford said that with respect to the question of what would happen if an emergency came about that prevented vehicles from leaving the parking lot onto Quinn Drive, "that question should be directed to the City of Sarnia."

It would seem that presently, in this matter, the proverbial ball is squarely in the city's court. According to officials, it will be addressed and potentially resolved in a city-wide transportation master plan that's currently in the works.

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