The proposed Ross Street Underpass was in the spotlight during Downtown Salmon Arm’s annual general meeting on April 18, with the membership being encouraged to vote for the project.
The city’s chief administrative officer Carl Bannister and corporate officer Erin Jackson attended the meeting in order to answer any questions regarding plans for the underpass, which will go to referendum in October.
Downtown Salmon Arm President Ron Langridge referred to a recent underpass meeting put on by the city, describing it as a “fabulous presentation” and urging people to vote for the project.
Coun. Kevin Flynn, the city’s rep on the board, encouraged those present to get informed as there will be a referendum question and noted that Downtown Salmon Arm “has taken a position strongly in support.”
However, in earlier years, some downtown businesses expressed concerns about and opposition to the plan, particularly about the effects on business during the year-long construction project.
David Askew, owner of Askew’s grocery stores, told the Observer he hasn’t changed his mind.
“I view the historic downtown of Salmon Arm with great affection. It is a place where those of us who shop and work there rub shoulders and socialize on a daily basis. In this way, I believe our historic downtown plays a crucial role in developing and maintaining the sense of inter-connectedness that we in Salmon Arm value so highly. In my view, we are being asked to approve this massive change without any real information about the impact. We are assured that the grades on Ross and Lakeshore will not be affected all that much. Has anyone seen a visual representation of the plan? I certainly haven’t.”
Regarding assertions that the downtown is solidly behind the underpass, he stated: “I can only say that my business is not and never has been. In my opinion this project represents a large expenditure of public funds for the benefit of a few and the case in its favour has not been made. I for one remain unconvinced.”
Bannister said following the April 18 meeting the questions he was asked focused on if there would be a tax increase and what other alternatives have been considered.
The projected cost of the project is now estimated at $12.4 million. While this is a best estimate based on a 90 per cent design submission, the absolute cost won’t be known until it goes to tender. Bannister said there will be no tax increase needed to service the long-term debt of $5 million required, as a debenture debt for the Shaw Centre will be paid off in July 2019, freeing up funds. The remaining $7 million is coming from grants, a federal government grade crossing program, a $1 million contribution from CP Rail and funding reserves.
Regarding other alternatives, Bannister said other options the city has looked at include Fifth Street SW, a Sixth Street NE overpass, 10th Avenue NE, 10 Street SW, Shuswap Street and Fourth Street NE.
“The Fourth Street Overpass option, which has garnered some attention lately, has many obstacles/challenges which would take years to address, if ever. These include design challenges with grade and geotechnical issues, aesthetics and major property acquisition requirements (from SASCU and CP for example),” he said. “It would not be possible or responsible to try and go to a referendum on such a speculative idea.”
He said the Ross Street option is the best.
“To change direction now would result in years more of delays and may put it off for good. The property approvals that we have put in place for the Ross Street location (which have taken years to negotiate) are time sensitive, as are many of the funding sources.”
Bannister also said the costs of not proceeding with the Ross Street underpass would be substantial. He said Transport Canada could require the city to install signalized intersections at the Marine Park and Narcisse crossings to the tune of about $2 million, as well as a pedestrian overpass at 17th Street in Raven for about $3 million, “none of which would provide the gateway linkage to the waterfront that we are really after.”
In a brochure created by the city, other considerations mentioned include: the potential for a catastrophic accident at the crossings, increasing maintenance costs, the investment already made in the design, and the increasing cost of the project which has risen from $1.1 million in 1987 to $12.4 million today.