I think that if you asked the average citizen of Prince Albert what Council's priorities should be, you'd get a pretty short list. Reducing crime, fixing roads, cutting excessive spending on non-essentials, keeping the bridge in good shape, making sure the water treatment plant is functioning - these are the topics that I hear about from people. No-one has ever complained about the fence that runs down the centre of Second Avenue West, to prevent pedestrians from trying to cross between intersections. In fact, it's probably only the traffic slowdowns caused by bridge repair work that have made some people notice the rust on the twenty-one year old structure.
So I was rather surprised to hear that the fence is in dire shape, and needs to be replaced. The report to council didn't include much information as to how this conclusion was arrived at. Apparently, repairs were done to one section last year, and the entire fence was then found to be in imminent danger of falling down. That's as much information as we were given. $125,000 was put into this year's budget to replace the entire fence. Unfortunately, the lowest bid came in almost $44,000 over that, and that's what the vote at last week's council meeting approved.
The fence is rusty, I'll agree. But in danger of collapse? I went out and had a look at it. More than a look, I got up close and personal, and shook it in several places. The footings are solid. It is dented in one place, where a vehicle ran into it, and it was solid enough not to collapse with that impact. The brackets securing the fence to the concrete are not rusted. What it needs, in my opinion, is a good sandblasting, followed by painting with rust-proof paint. That would give us what one councillor said that he wants - "a good-looking fence", and could be done for much less than $170,000.
I do understand the importance of keeping up appearances, and I understand the so-called broken window effect. That's the term used to describe the effect caused when failure to make small repairs leads to an overall decrease in the appearance of an area. The idea is to catch the small stuff, before it becomes big stuff. Regular maintenance is key to this - perhaps regular fence painting, before rust starts, is something that we should plan for. And I wish that we would worry more about the broken window effect in areas where people live and work - those are the areas where it would really make a difference.
About a year ago, when the crack in the bridge was found, I wrote that I hoped that this would be a wake-up call for all members of council to keep regular infrastructure maintenance a priority. Ironically, we have fallen back to our pre-bridge crisis ways, and taken the money out of the bridge inspection and maintenance budget to help fund this over-budget fence replacement.
"Good fences make good neighbours." - Robert Frost