South-side growth leads to pinch point at Parsons Road

More than 20 years has passed since the first store set up shop in South Edmonton Common. 

Now one of the largest outdoor retail centres in Canada, it boasts 2.4-million square feet of shopping and entertainment over 320 acres. 

When the first store opened in 1998, there wasn’t much nearby except farmers fields and industrial areas. But as South Edmonton Common grew, so did the need for infrastructure — like the 23rd Avenue interchange, completed in 2011.

Another roadway in the area is a source of lingering frustration for commuters and residents of newer neighbourhoods in south Edmonton.

They are calling for the city to twin Parsons Road, which connects the busy retail district to the city’s deep south.

“Definitely it’s a need,” Ward 12 Coun. Moe Banga told CBC News. “I actually travel that road myself so I can testify to [that] first-hand.”

The city has had a concept plan to widen Parsons Road since 2014, it would see a lane added in each direction.

But despite the growth of both commercial businesses and population to the south, the funding hasn’t been allocated.

Now fully built out and no longer on the outskirts of the city, South Edmonton Common saw more than 62,000 visitors per day on average in 2018, according to the developer, Cameron Corporation.

There’s so much traffic on there, it has to make the cut.– Moe Banga

Banga said he has brought up widening Parsons Road during previous budget discussions, but it hasn’t made the cut.

A city spokesperson said the project currently “resides on the unfunded list that accompanies the capital budget and is ready for consideration by council during future budget discussions.”

According to the city data, the stretch between Ellerslie Road and the Walmart saw 74 collisions in 2019. That’s  an average of about six collisions each month.

A 500-metre stretch of Parsons Road between Ellerslie Road and Ellwood Drive had 21 crashes last year, ranking it fourth worst in the city for mid-block collisions. It’s also an area that has seen a lot of commercial growth over the past several years.

Named after Sidney Parsons, Edmonton’s mayor from 1949 to 1951, Parsons Road is a mix of double- and single-lane traffic south of 19th Avenue.

But at 13th Avenue, near the Walmart Supercentre, at an intersection that feeds traffic to Ikea and Lowe’s, Parsons Road turns into a small, two-lane strip of pavement.

It leads south to Ellerslie Road and all the new neighbourhoods around it that have developed over the past few decades.

Watch: This Google Earth Timelapse shows how the area has grown over 34 years. South Edmonton Common develops immediately northeast of the Anthony Henday interchange near the centre of the screen. Parsons Road runs north-south on the east side of South Edmonton Common.

Banga has lived in Summerside for nine years. 

“If I was a betting man … it’s about four times the population now south of Henday,” Banga said of the area, which includes Summerside, Walker Lakes and the Orchards.

Andrzej Piprek has traveled Parsons Road between his home in Summerside and his work at the Alberta Research Park for the past eight years. He has complained to the city about Parsons Road and says the congestion and collisions are making his commute worse.

“The city seems to be putting more and more development in that area as well without any regard to that road,” Piprek said. 

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “I know the city has different priorities, but, you know, it’s such a busy road that you would think it would be put on some kind of priority list.”

Safety concerns

For many residents, the problem is about more than just a road that needs twinning.

Ange Walker visits South Common often and calls it her stomping grounds. She has witnessed several accidents along that stretch of Parsons Road.

“I’ve noticed multiple times when I went down that road that there were multiple cars in the ditch, sometimes two, three in a row,” Walker said.

About halfway between South Edmonton Common and Ellwood Drive, there is a curve in the road with a soft shoulder. Drivers who hit it can lose control. Vehicles sometimes land in the ditch to the east, or even worse, head into oncoming traffic.

“I haven’t taken the ditch there,” Walker said. “However, there have been a few close calls.”

It becomes an issue each winter, when the first few snowfalls cover the shoulder and road and the flow of traffic cuts the corner a little too close.

“Sometimes you just be a little extra cautious and then move a little bit closer to the shoulder … and it’s like it sucks you in, it pulls you,” Walker said.

After a recent collision in that same area, at least three complaints about dangerous conditions were submitted to 311. The city put pylons out to mark the shoulder, and said it was being looked at.

An SUV and van collided head-on on Parsons Road on Nov. 11. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

In a statement, the city said the area remains a priority. The data will be reviewed and evaluated for potential improvements.

Banga, the Ward 12 councillor, put forward a motion during budget deliberations earlier this month to have $800,000 allocated to fund the widening of Parsons Road between 19th Avenue and Ellerslie Road. Council voted to defer the proposal to the spring 2021 supplemental budget adjustment.

“I’m definitely hoping that the next budget adjustment early next year, it somehow makes the cut,” he said. “There’s so much traffic on there, it has to make the cut.”

Walker hopes something will be done to address the road soon.

“I could understand there being delays with everything that’s happening right now. However, I do feel like people’s lives are at risk. I do feel like that road is a huge hazard.”

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