Sunday, January 13, 2013

Bridge Report - What Next?

As you're probably aware, the well-publicized bridge report did not contain the news that was hoped for - that the province recognizes that a second bridge crossing of the North Saskatchewan River is needed, and that planning for such a project can now begin, with a funding commitment in place.

Instead, it said that the current bridge, if maintained, meets our needs, and should last for another thirty years, considering capacity and projected population growth.

While this news is disappointing, it wasn't a surprise.  We have been told before that based on traffic volumes, a second bridge isn't required.  Slow going during long weekends, while inconvenient and annoying,  is not sufficient reason for the province to cough up several million dollars, no matter how many people sign a petition.  In fact, the decision last summer to open all the lanes during the August long weekend so that people coming from the south weren't inconvenienced was probably not the best way of emphasizing to people from outside the Prince Albert area how serious the situation is.

And I don't think that there's a magic population number that if reached, would automatically trigger an opening of the money bags to fund a new bridge - it's just not that simple.

While the vocalized disappointment is understandable, I don't think that there's any ground to be gained in getting angry or political.  The report was prepared by independent consultants, and consultants aren't always going to give the answers that are wanted.

I think it is important to figure out how we can move forward, and take at least the first possible step.  That's why I will be making a motion at the next council meeting that we endorse the report's proposed location for a future second crossing - east of the airport.  Then, that decision will be made - we won't have to have another study at some future date to figure out a location.  If we can get the surrounding RMs to come in on the endorsement, so much the better.

Knowing the general location can then be used in long-term planning, and in developing a functional study to identify the best specific site, taking into account such factors as geological bases, land ownership, and other service requirements.  That way, we'll be ready for the next infrastructure funding opportunity, be it federal or provincial, and be able to move forward, rather than reworking the same study over and over again, and remaining in the same place that we've been for the last thirty years.

It would also be useful to identify each incremental step in the process to a new bridge.  We're unlikely to get a full package of funding to do it all at once - bridge, plus all the highway connectors for the transportation plan.  But if we can set the process out in less financially  intimidating steps, then we might actually move ahead.

Most change happens in stages anyway.  Let's be patient, work with other levels of government rather than pointing fingers, and figure out what we can do, not just complain about what we can't get right now.

"You don't have to see the whole staircase to take the first step." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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