The proposed site of the Ross Street underpass. - File photo

Ross Street underpass cost estimate at $10.5 million

The issue will go to council this fall for a decision on whether to go to referendum

The plan for what looks like a $10.5 million project will go to council this fall, for a decision on whether to go to referendum.

Carl Bannister, the city’s chief administrative officer, provided the Observer with an update on the current status of the proposed Ross Street Underpass.

Although the cost is still to be finalized, at this point it’s $10.5 million, with about 60 per cent of the project to be covered by grants, reserves and development cost charges, Bannister says.

He said the grants come from the federal gas tax fund as well as a contribution of $1 million from CP Rail.

“Although we’re pushing CP Rail, hoping it will put up a little more,” added Mayor Nancy Cooper.

Bannister said $4.3 million would be addressed in a long-term borrowing bylaw.

The underpass has been identified in the city’s official community plan since the mid-’80s, he says, and was also featured in the city’s 2013 strategic plan as a short-term priority – a category in the 2014 to 2017 time frame.

Although the underpass plan has been controversial, sparking conflicting reactions, Bannister said both the city’s official community plan and the strategic plan were the results of public input and extensive surveys.

“I sometimes hear in the community, why don’t you look at other options and alternatives?”

Bannister said they have been considered.

“For the past 20 years, the only option seriously pursued has been the Ross Street underpass.”

He said it’s a complex project and wouldn’t make sense to switch tack now and look at another option.

At this point council intends to have a referendum in the fall of 2018.

“In order to go to referendum, it has to be shelf ready or there’s no point…,” he says. “The question will be, do you agree with council adopting a long-term borrowing bylaw for underpass?”

He predicts there’ll be a lot of speculation about what will happen after a referendum.

“That will be one for a future council to decide; they could scrap it or put it on hold, or raise the funds by taxation so no borrowing is required – all of that is just speculation,” he says. “But a lot of the elements of the project are time sensitive. If a referendum is not successful, it’s not a matter of putting it on hold.”

For instance, he says, the city is concerned that Transport Canada is either going to close the crossings or demand improvements that are not affordable.

“I think really, it’s a physical and psychological barrier between the community of Salmon Arm and the waterfront, and to me that’s the main driver.”

The project is now at 70 per cent design and the drawings are at CP Rail to confirm acceptance of them.

Once that happens, it will advance to the 90 per cent stage, Bannister says, and staff will report to council in fall of 2017 with a project financing plan and a project cost. Council will then decide if the the project will go to referendum.

If the referendum passes, the project would advance it to a tender ready stage and the best possible cost estimates would be supplied.

Bannister said payments for the Shaw Centre are about $379,000 per year and the debenture will be paid out in early 2019. Borrowing $4.3 million, if that’s what the tender comes in at, could then be accommodated within the city’s existing budget.

The nine- to 12-month construction period will include a two-track diversion as well as replacement of what is called the ‘hot-box detector,’ where rail cars with problems are parked.

“There is going to be some disruption to the parking lot on the east side of Askew’s mall,” says Bannister, because the underpass will go right through there between that and the CP building. “But we’re going to repave the eastern portion of the parking lot for Shuswap Park Mall as part of the project.”

He said the CP building will remain where it is.

Bannister expects there will be a series of open houses in 2018 and, if the referendum passes, he expects construction will likely begin in the winter of 2019.