By Jensen, Randy on May 9, 2020.
Lethbridge and southwest Alberta have again lost out on consideration for provincial grants for local infrastructure projects.
Transportation Minister Ric McIver announced $350 million in highway infrastructure maintenance projects across the province earlier this week, including some substantial projects in southern Alberta. Medicine Hat received funding for three projects, but other communities in the region, including Lethbridge, did not make the cut this time.
“I did speak to the Minister of Transportation about that,” said Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf. “Obviously everybody would like to have projects in their areas, but this is done on a priority for maintenance. They go on a needs basis, and Lethbridge’s roads are actually in pretty good shape compared with other places across the entire province. Our priorities weren’t quite high enough to make the list this time, but we are on the list, and the minister is aware of that as things progress.”
Mayor Chris Spearman said he was disappointed Lethbridge’s needs were not considered higher on the province’s list.
“When we heard there was going to be infrastructure money being made available, we certainly reminded the provincial government we have been asking for improvements to the Highway 3 on-ramps to west Lethbridge since 2009 based on their own engineering studies,” explained Spearman. “Certainly, we are disappointed that hasn’t happened, and also additional money for twinning of Highway 3 didn’t occur. Having said that, we understand the provincial government had infrastructure money already in queue for shovel-ready projects, and simply advanced the projects that were already in the queue.”
Neudorf confirmed he did not expect any further funding announcements for highway infrastructure this year, but he was hopeful Lethbridge would be considered for some of the $600 million in additional funding being made available for stimulus spending on new infrastructure in communities this summer. The province is set to announce those projects some time in the next month, confirmed Neudorf.
“The thing I am looking forward to even more is the true stimulus package when it comes out for new infrastructure projects,” he said. “I think we are all aware in Lethbridge of things we are looking for, and I am quite hopeful to see some of those projects named on that list when it comes out a little later this month or early next month.”
Spearman echoed Neudorf’s hopes, and said Lethbridge needed provincial stimulus funding as much as other communities to help its economy emerge from the COVID-19 crisis on a good foot.
“We want to work together with MLA Neudorf and with the provincial government on projects that will put people back to work in the City of Lethbridge, and ones that will continue to stimulate our economy,” stated Spearman. “We understand these projects not only have to be shovel-ready, but also shovel-worthy. Certainly, we want to work with the province to make sure the City of Lethbridge gets its share, and there are benefits to the region from the funding that goes forward.”
Lethbridge has not received any major infrastructure project grants since the Kenney government came into power last year despite several capital project funding cycles having passed. MLA Neudorf was asked if the reason for this was politics: a matter of the UCP favouring certain communities more than others because those communities tend to more unequivocally support the party. Neudorf denied this was the case.
“I don’t think it is anything political at all,” he stated. “I think if you look at the entire province our mandate from the election was to be careful with our spending. So you see retraction over the entire province, every municipality has been asked to reduce their spending by measures. And it’s the same with every government department.
“In Lethbridge we do have a need, but if you look at the last 10 years Lethbridge has done very well,” Neudorf added. “We have a brand new building at the university, a new expansion at the college. We have the new aquatic centre, ice arena and curling rinks on the westside, the bus depot downtown. So we have done very well, and we have the new school being built on the southside. You get used to that a little bit, and of course there is a need to rein that spending in a little bit and you have to wait a year or two, that makes it tough.”
In fact, Neudorf stated, Lethbridge was poised to come out of this COVID-19 crisis in much better shape than other communities, and he hoped the strong local private sector, despite facing some challenges in the food processing industry at present, would be able to provide the boost the city might need to do that successfully once people could start getting back to work.
“Lethbridge is doing phenomenal,” he said. “The people who have contracted COVID-19 have done a great job in self-isolation, and we haven’t had any deaths. We have been very fortunate in that respect. That’s why I believe we will be one of the regions in the province to lead the way into recovery.”
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