Piecemeal construction projects cost taxpayers too much money

The biggest road project the city has yet to see hinges on city, provincial and federal governments having the vision and courage to build today for tomorrow.

The biggest road project the city has yet to see hinges on city, provincial and federal governments having the vision and courage to build today for tomorrow.

That means learning from past mistakes — the 67th Street roadway and bridge project to be specific.

The first section of the 67th Street bridge opened in September 1988. It was $3.6 million under budget — total cost was $13.6 million, including roadways leading to the bridge — and ahead of schedule.

Red Deer residents quickly took to the city’s first east-west connection. But it was only one lane in each direction and remained that way until 2000, when phase two, the twinning of the roadway and bridge, was finally completed. This second phase cost $10.5 million.

Total cost for the 67th Street to 30th Avenue four-lane roadway and twin bridges was about $24 million, and 12 years passed before all was said and done.

The roadway is now a very busy thoroughfare that offers motorists, cyclists and pedestrians access to the east and west sides of the city.

The road is already close to capacity. We can be sure that before the proposed Northland Drive connector — to serve the city’s northeast and also to be part of a future city ring road — is ever finished, 67th Street will be handling more traffic than it should.

Before the 67th Street twinning was completed, more than a few Red Deer residents wondered why the road and bridge weren’t twinned in the first place. For example, heavy equipment had to come in not just once, but twice.

Building bridges across rivers is a complicated process that has to take into account environmental issues, such as when to work in the river to least affect fish.

Go in and get ’er done all at once makes the most sense.

Today, at a time when infrastructure costs are plummeting, it makes more sense than ever to do a project in its entirety, rather than piecemeal. It also creates lots of construction jobs.

As the city embarks on the Northland Drive connector and new bridge over the river project, we could see piecemeal work again. The city is considering only building half the project initially.

The first part of the project is to build Northland Drive as a four-lane roadway and a bridge across the river to link with 30th Avenue. A study has indicated the road should be four lanes at first.

But the city is also getting analysis on just two lanes being built at first, because of budget constraints.

The project, considered the first phase of an eventual ring road around the city, is estimated to cost $129 million. The go-ahead depends on how fast the province and federal government can provide funding, and how much. The city can’t go it alone on this — it’s too expensive.

But here’s the rub — tenders for infrastructure projects are suddenly coming in a lot lower. The economy has tanked and construction costs are decelerating so much so that every municipal, provincial and federal official should look at moving forward on the big projects now.

Taxpayers will save millions, if not billions, of dollars.

Red Deer County has already taken the lead. In an amazing turn of events, the county decided to move hard and fast on its 10-year paving program, so that it’s going to do 10 years of planned paving in one year. The reason is simple ­— paving costs have gone from $142 per tonne to $70 per tonne this year. The county dipped into it reserves to do this.

It’s an example all those who spend our public dollars should follow.

Mary-Ann Barr is Advocate assistant editor. She can be reached by email at barr@bprda.wpengine.com or by phone at 403-314-4332.

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