Sunday, March 7, 2010

Putting the brakes on the spin cycle

One of the persistent criticisms of the city's Johnson St. Bridge project has been that the plan was pulled out of thin air when federal and provincial infrastructure funding came calling.

The path to the actual decision is much more routine.

In 2007 the city commissioned a condition assessment, preparing for the day 10 to 15 years after the last round of painting and repairs was done in 1999 when project engineers suggested the day of reckoning for the bridge would come sometime in that time frame.

Municipalities do have a duty of care to maintain their infrastructure to protect public safety and ensure operability. Assessments and subsequent repairs are the regular, routine responsibility that arises from that duty, and failure to do so may expose local governments to liability claims if something goes wrong.

The project reported out only after the 2009 election, and though it was nowhere to be seen in the campaign, the engineers were quitely doing their work in the background while public attention was focused elsewhere.*

(*A sidebar to the election discussion: I can't speak for other candidates, but I did spend some of my 2 or 3 alloted minutes at various all-candidates meetings talking about the need to address our infrastructure deficit - that problem of worn out roads, bridges, pipes and other municipal assets that will pile more costs onto every city in the country. I also spelled out pretty clearly my preference for re-orienting our transportation systems to support more sustainable choices, like cycling, walking and transit.)

The report to council did come and it is up on the city's website for all to see ( The need to do something was clear and council chose replacement, not because it was a means to profit from new programs for infrastructure, but because it seemed the most sensible of the two options before us. It was timely to be able to apply for funding, but none of us were looking to add tens of millions to our budget just to secure one or even two thirds of the cost of the project.

That said, it would have been irresponsible not to apply for the funding and staff worked overtime to prepare a submission. That we were succcessful with our federal application indicates that we had a well thought out project to address a genuine and critical need.

We'll be facing a referendum in the fall on a new borrowing for our bridge project. It will be for a "must do" project that should, if we can make the right choices, provide a safe and sustainable transportation facility well into the future. I'm looking forward to that rational discussion.

No comments:

Post a Comment