June 15th, 2024

Mayor gets green light to seek funding for bridge study

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on February 22, 2023.

Herald photo by Al Beeber Traffic crosses Whoop-Up Drive on a blustery Family Day morning Monday.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Lethbridge city council on Tuesday authorized mayor Blaine Hyggen to write letters to the provincial and federal governments requesting funding for the functional planning study and preliminary design for a proposed third river crossing.

The official business motion passed by a 5-3 vote with councillors Jeff Carlson, Belinda Crowson and John Middleton-Hope opposed. Deputy mayor Ryan Parker was absent.

That crossing is specifically for the Chinook Trail river crossing.

A report presented to council on October 11 of last year by transportation engineer Adam St. Amant, said the Chinook Trail option remains better than one suggested for Popson Park.

The Chinook Trail option, said the report, “continues to provide logical active transportation options in addition to a motor vehicle crossing.”

It added the Chinook Trail alignment “provides an improved connection between residential areas in southwest Lethbridge and commercial areas in southeast Lethbridge.”

During debate, Crowson argued against the motion saying there are other areas the City should be doing advocacy on, a sentiment shared by Carlson who suggested other priorities should be council’s focus.

The mayor was unwilling to have the matter deferred to a different date so costs of such preliminary work could be brought to council.

Hyggen said by authorizing him to write the letters council would be putting an end to the question that was asked on the 2021 election ballot in which 60.4 per cent of voters supported the idea that council should “approve plans to construct a third bridge prior to 2030 as a municipal capital project priority.”

The mayor’s motion stated that council approved funding in principle as part of the 2022-31 Capital Improvement Plan for the preliminary design of the Chinook Trail crossing and if any funding for the project becomes available from the province or Ottawa, the City should be in a state of readiness to receive those monies.

Council heard in the meeting that the costs of such work have likely increased by 30 per cent or even 40 per cent since the matter was put into the CIP.

Hyggen said the letters would get the ball rolling on the bridge issue, adding he wants to make sure taxpayers aren’t burdened with the costs.

Council heard last year in a report by City treasurer Darrell Mathews that if the bridge costs $200 million there could be a 14.5 per cent tax hike for residents on the assumption that a 10-year loan at three per cent interest would prompt annual payments of $23 million. This is if the City had to pay for the entire cost of such a crossing.

Using these interest rates, a $200 million bridge, based on an average single family assessment of $269,500 and the 2021 Single Family Residence Mill Rate of 8.7505 could increase property taxes by $343.

A $250 million bridge could increase those taxes by $433 while a $300 million bridge could result in an annual property tax increase of $522, said the report.

If loan rates increase, that could also increase the rate of borrowing, the report stated, a point that was also made on Tuesday.

Councillor Rajko Dodic brought up Mathew’s report or council’s information saying he wanted to make the costs clear if the City had to foot the entire bill, before adding he would support the resolution.

Hyggen said he wants the federal and provincial governments to “help with the costs for this functional study for the third river crossing.”

In response to a question from Middleton-Hope, he said the funding is in principle in the second half of the CIP and a dollar value hasn’t yet been put forward.

“No funding has been designated yet,” the mayor added.

Middleton-Hope said he didn’t have enough information on what the costs are going to be. He said the information provided in the report is a year-and-a-half old and “we’ve had some significant economic changes and forecasts that have certainly changed in the last year-and-a- half. I think those numbers would have to be revisited and I see nothing in terms of what alternatives might be viewed, rather than going with a third bridge – what the city might consider in terms of economic development on the west side.”

Infrastructure manager Joel Sanchez said a preliminary design also includes environmental assessments and implications and likely the costs would be 30 to 40 per cent more than previously estimated.

“Depending on the current considerations, it could be more than that,” Sanchez said in response to a question from Carlson.

Carlson said in opposition to the motion that “we do have other priorities in front of us at this moment and I think maybe that should be our focus. But with this one, even though it would be nice to get some dollars, until I know what dollars I’m asking for and what level of commitment and when we’re ready to start, I think it might be shooting ourselves in the foot to start asking for thing we have too many uncertainties on.”

Hyggen noted “we don’t know what the costs are going to be. As we didn’t years and years ago when we first brought this forward. It changes continually. Talking to some other colleagues throughout the province, there hasn’t been requests for dollars,” he noted.

“It gets the ball rolling and I think the biggest part is this is part of the CIP that we’ve heard it’s changed from $5 million to $4 million – whatever that dollar amount, that’s currently on taxation if this is approved with the future CIP. So for that reason, I just want to make sure it’s not burdened on the taxpayer and when I say that, dollars only come from one pocket – we know, that, right. But at least we’re getting our portion back to our community by having the provincial government, the federal government if this does pass and gets to them, that those dollars would come from those funds rather than from the local taxation,” said the mayor.

“For that reason, I left that open.”

Crowson said “I see the importance of going to the other orders of government and asking if they’d be willing to pay then we’d at least know if they have hand in this and it would be a way, as the mayor said, of closing this if they choose not to…”

“But I also know we have a lot more significant requests we should be making of the provincial and federal governments, things that are higher needs in our community in my mind. And I always worry when you go to the well once and you go back again, where the difficulty is. So for that reason I’m going to vote against because I think there’s other places we should be doing more advocacy than this though I do respect that this is an important way to close the circle,” Crowson said.

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