An impassioned Red Deer city councillor failed to sway his colleagues from approving a $10-million railway overpass he said won’t be needed until 2030 or beyond.
Coun. Ken Johnston made an emotional case for delaying construction of a new railway overpass over Highway 11A, between Gaetz Avenue and Taylor Drive, until there‘s enough vehicle traffic along Hwy 11A to justify the project. This could mean until the entire Northland Drive is constructed in a decade or more.
“In a scarce time of capital, when we are looking for ways to balance the budget, why invest another $10 million on something that is not being connected to until 2030 or more?” said Johnston.
He argued traffic along Highway 11A will not get significantly busier until a new bridge is built over the Red Deer River, allowing motorists to cross the city diagonally, from the northwest side to the southeast.
Until then, Johnston said drivers won’t be inconvenienced by the existing railway crossing, which is at road level across Highway 11A.
Mayor Tara Veer said she understands Johnston’s concerns. But she summarized the sentiments of most councillors by saying it would be difficult to extricate the railway overpass component out of the project’s planning.
To delay it would mean risking a $9-million provincial grant that has been approved in principle for the Northland Drive project, said Veer. It would also reduce the buying power of the development levies, which will pay for about a third of the Northland project, because building costs will be much higher in several years, she added.
Coun. Tanya Handley stood with Johnston, saying she could not support the “over building,” but the rest of council approved the railway overpass, road improvement and widening project along Highway 11A between Taylor Drive and Gaetz Avenue, which will cost nearly $29 million in 2020.
Coun. Vesna Higham said while she did not support the overpass, she voted for the project overall because of the risk of losing the provincial grant.
While there’s less provincial financial support for it, and the city’s population growth has slowed from when Northland Drive was first conceived, Veer said a high demand exists for this new route “for trade distribution and labour force movement.”
She added it would move a lot of north-south traffic off Highway 2 and 67th and 32nd streets.
Nearly $12 million will be spent on doing timely maintenance to Red Deer roads. Coun. Dianne Wyntjes questioned the need for spending so much on this when Red Deer roads were rated higher than those in Edmonton in a recent comparison.
But Veer said a previous series of budget freezes on road work led to thousands of potholes emerging around the city by about 2013, when council had to start spending sharply more to deal with the effects of decaying roadways.
Fixing cracks when they start to appear costs far less than waiting too long and having to redo an entire stretch of roadway, she added.
Council also agreed to spent $2.5 million to buy five 30-foot buses to run on less busy neighbourhood routes, instead of the more costly to fuel 40-foot buses that are often mostly empty in the evenings.
And $5.6 million was approved to replace the inefficient windows at Red Deer City Hall, one floor at a time, over four years. Councillors spoke of seeing city workers with space heaters under their desks to keep warm.