CP Rail is all aboard the Ross Street underpass project with a $1 million commitment, though construction may not be on track for another few years.
During city council’s budget deliberations last Thursday, administrator Carl Bannister presented to council a letter from CP government affairs director Mike LoVecchio, stating the company supports the project and has earmarked $1 million towards it.
LoVecchio explains the offer comes “without prejudice,” but requires the signing of a project agreement between the city and CP, and comes with a deadline of Dec. 31, 2016. He notes the underpass would benefit CP by reducing vehicle and pedestrian interactions with CP tracks, “increasing the efficiency and safety of our operation.”
Bannister said the letter represents CP is supportive of the project, both monetarily and in terms of the $40,000 in related design work that has already been done.
“You might recall we had to change the scope of the project because CP is insisting on keeping the three tracks that are there,” said Bannister. “So we addressed that issue and advanced the design to where it is right now.”
Mayor Nancy Cooper later told the Observer that she is grateful for CP’s commitment, but she will be looking for a “further contribution from them and I think they are well aware of that.”
“I understand, down the road, we could see more trains at faster speeds coming through Salmon Arm, so eliminating a crossing is advantageous to CP. My task will be to convince CP that advantage is worth more.”
In the new year, the city will proceed with a detailed design of the underpass. This design is expected to cost $470,000, to be funded from the Development Cost Charge (DCC) Underpass Reserve fund.
“So it doesn’t really affect the tax impact of this budget,” said Bannister, noting the two design projects represent about six per cent of the cost of the overall project, estimated at $8 million after CP’s contribution.
“That includes a 30 per cent contingency,” said Bannister. “If you take that contingency off, it’s at 5.6 million for the cost of the project. So we are advancing the project.”
Discussion of the underpass was initiated by a debate between councillors as to whether $30,000 be budgeted for a City Centre Transportation Plan which, according to public works and engineering director Rob Niewenhuizen, would build on a downtown transportation study undertaken in 2008/09, and a traffic corridor study (focused on the Trans-Canada Highway), funded in part by ICBC and the province. Among the second study’s recommendations was the moving of traffic signals from Ross Street to Fourth.
Coun. Alan Harrison noted downtown businesses were opposed to this, and said he couldn’t support the new study, calling it premature.
Coun. Denise Reimer said the study is important, but agreed with Harrison that 2015 isn’t the time for it.
“I personally believe we should be looking at this when we’re looking at the underpass as a whole, so that hopefully we get more bang for our buck,” said Reimer.
Coun. Marg Kentel argued the traffic study should proceed in 2015, while Coun. Ken Jamieson agreed it should be bound up with the underpass.
The argument was resolved with council’s unanimous support to set aside $15,000 in reserve to fund the study in the future.