By Tim Kalinowski on July 28, 2021.
Lethbridge residents will have a chance to vote on a non-binding ballot question during this fall’s municipal election which will gauge the public’s desire to build a third bridge by 2030.
“I think it is important to ask the citizens of Lethbridge if they want that third bridge built before 2030,” said Mayor Chris Spearman, who brought the motion before council on Tuesday. “That seems like a long time away. That seems like nine years away, but people have to understand what the process looks like. Right now the detailed design would be done in 2027 so the bridge could be constructed by 2030. So what are all the factors? Because you don’t get a bridge for free.”
Spearman hoped that citizens would take the time to thoroughly review all the information on the costs and liabilities of a third bridge before casting their ballot on the issue which the City will provide on its website prior to the vote covering eight areas:
-Expected capital cost.
-Current traffic volumes including peak and non-peak times of day.
-Impact of borrowing required funding on municipal taxes.
-Impact of external grants, if received from provincial and/or federal governments.
-Expected economic benefit due to construction.
-Expected economic benefit post construction.
-Ongoing budget pressure associated with ongoing maintenance.
-Estimated impact of greenhouse emissions and environmental impact.
“People are very concerned about property taxes,” Spearman explained further. “That property taxes are already too high – amongst the highest in Alberta – but this would add 13 per cent to our current property taxes if this was built this year.
“The other side of that is how can we reduce that cost?” he continued. “If we were to get half the cost funded by the provincial government – of course that would cut the tax impact locally in half.”
Spearman also reminded residents that those tax increases would be in effect for the 20 years it will take to pay off the $200 million estimated cost of the bridge.
However, Spearman felt the upside of asking the question in this fall’s ballot will not only allow voters to have their say on the issue, but, depending on the results, could give council extra political “arrows in its quiver” in negotiations with the province and federal government over getting grants to help pay for the large cost of construction.
“To this point,” Spearman explained, “people have to recognize the third bridge would be entirely within the City of Lethbridge; so it would not be a provincial bridge like Highway 3. Different provincial governments over time have said that bridge is entirely the cost to the City of Lethbridge, in other words City of Lethbridge taxpayers.
“But,” he added, “if we had a (ballot question) that had strong support for a third bridge, what provincial government who wanted to win seats in this city in the future would say, ‘We are not going to fund that third bridge in the City of Lethbridge?’ So it could be a political asset to the next city council.”
City council voted 6-3 to adopt the third bridge question on the ballot this fall, with Councillors Joe Mauro, Jeffrey Coffman and Rob Miyashiro opposed.
The question will read: “Do you agree that city council should approve plans to construct a 3rd bridge prior to 2030 as a municipal capital project priority?”
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