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Friday, March 25, 2011

Passed over overpass

It has been a week of overpasses: just completed, in progress and contemplated. But where will council find the bridge financing?

This week I had my first drive on the roundabout at Hale and Trafalgar. It takes a little getting used to, but I gather that London drivers are up to the challenge. I certainly haven’t heard about any major problems there, despite the dire warnings of some residents. The only accident to have received any media attention was the one that occurred before the roundabout was opened to the public.

I wasn’t in favour of the overpass at Hale and Trafalgar. Not that I didn’t think it would ease some of the traffic tie-ups in that area; it does. But I didn’t think that, from a taxpayer’s perspective, it should have been the highest priority.  Only a block away, was the Highbury Street overpass. And although it was originally projected to cost $11M, the final price tag of the overpass was over $16M.

Most of that was funded by other levels of government through Superbuild and Infrastructure Stimulus funding as well as a contribution by CN, but the city undertook a debt of more than $3M to cover the project. And there is one cost that wasn’t included: the cost of taxes lost when 30 homes were razed to make way for traffic. Overpasses may be great for improving traffic flow and even reducing emissions, but they don’t help to pay the bills for snowplowing.

But that wasn’t my major objection. Ultimately, we do have to be concerned about traffic flow and how people can get to work. It can’t and won’t all be done by public transit.

My biggest objection was that, if we had money to spend from whatever source, on an overpass, surely the level crossing on Adelaide north of Central Ave would be more important. The delays there are significant, and there is no nearby alternative route. As a major arterial road, it is particularly important for emergency vehicles including those en route to the Children’s Emergency Hospital. As well, an overpass would reduce the high number of collisions experienced at this crossing and it would provide better overall traffic flow by creating a north south corridor across the city.

For all these reasons and more, some members if council were more supportive of an Adelaide Street overpass than the Hale-Trafalgar. However, the latter won the day, and when the Infrastructure money became available, it was a “shovel ready” project.

On Monday’s agenda for the Built and Natural Environment Committee, Ward 4 Councillor Stephen Orser will be asking the committee to recommend a fast forward for an Adelaide Street Overpass. While there will probably be lots of moral support for getting it done, since council has identified it as a high priority, finding the money won’t be easy.

The city has just closed Sarnia Road in order to replace the bridge there. Staff is in negotiations with CP Rail to cost share the replacement, but CP is not in a hurry to spend its money. In fact, in all the discussions over what to do with the existing CP owned bridge, a number 2 priority on the heritage list, CP was happy to let us take it wherever, as long as it didn’t have to pay for taking it down or disposing of it. So it may be a while before we can embark on discussions about cost sharing an overpass on Adelaide despite the fact that there could be some significant benefits to CP.

Orser suggests that staff begin negotiations with the provincial and federal governments as well. Given that he has been the sign man for many Liberal election campaigns, that may be a more effective approach. Certainly, judging from his list of election corporate donors, Orser has been no slacker in wheeling and dealing, a fact which became all too clear at council in the months leading up to the municipal election. And he has also made sure that his votes have been very supportive of the mayor, even if it means doing a complete reversal of position from past votes, something that won’t do him any harm when the issue is debated next week.

But although he may have friends in high places, finding the money will be a problem. The project was not included in the 10 year capital plan forecast nor was it included in the 20 year development charges schedule. In short, no money is being set aside for it, and the current council already has an extensive bucket list.


Anonymous said...

Hi Gina;

Also remember the dramatic pedestrian safety improvement at Hale/Trafalgar. Unlike Adelaide, Hale/Trafalgar has two main line (high speed) tracks. All too often, pedestrians watch a train go by and then begin to cross before the lights and gates go up. They do not realize that there could be a second train on the other track (despite the signage). The separation of this crossing eliminates the pedestrian/train interface.

j said...

"Ultimately, we do have to be concerned about traffic flow and how people can get to work. [If we believe that] It can’t and won’t all be done by public transit [then how much will we improve public transit for those who can and will use it?]"

Sandy Levin said...

The interesting thing about this project is that it was not on the city's radar screen until it showed up at a meeting of councillors (around 2001) with MPs and MPPs. It suddenly appeared on a list of projects for a round of infrastructure spending. It was being promoted by none other than our present Mayor, then MP, J. Fontana. Strange, until you realize that the area was represented by two Liberal members of council at the time, R. Caranci and B. Polhill.

Gary Anderson said...

The crossing at Hale and Trafalgar was very unique. It tied up traffic on 2 heavily travelled streets at once. During heavy traffic times, there were jams there like no others. It's easy to point out the close proximity to the Highbury overpass, but reality was that accessing it during these heavy traffic times while Hale and Trafalgar were tied up with a train was no easy task and created more dangerous situations than one could imagine. The roundabout was a great idea and works like a dream. Taxpayers money well spent for a change.