Adding a bicycle lane to the Robert Campbell Bridge could increase safety for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists alike. It will also cost the city $1.7 million. For that reason, it slowed down Monday’s capital budget vote.
Councillors Betty Irwin and Dave Stockdale both voted against the $15.5-million budget, saying the bridge work was unnecessary and too costly.
Only one project in the budget, reconstruction of Range Road North, pegged at slightly over $2 million, costs more.
A bicycle lane will make it easier for people to choose more active transportation, like biking or walking, said Coun. Kirk Cameron. Both cyclists and motorists have raised concerns about the bridge’s safety.
“I spent over 30 years going across that bridge in many ways, running and biking. It’s really inadequate the way it is,” said Mayor Dan Curtis, who lives in Riverdale with his wife and children. When he heard the expansion might happen, he was “delighted and ecstatic,” he told council. When his kids were still in strollers, there wasn’t enough room on the bridge to push them and have someone walk or bike, he said.
But Stockdale disagreed about the seriousness of the problem.
“We’re not widening the road. We’re just creating a path for cyclists to go on, and I don’t think it’s that serious of a problem for us to do it,” he said.
The expense is “unnecessary,” he said. “I don’t know when it will be necessary,” said the veteran councillor who has lived in Riverdale since the 1970s. “It’s a huge expense. I know it’s technically out of certain funds, but this is all taxpayers’ dollars in the long run.”
Irwin agreed. She was the only councillor to vote in favour of Stockdale’s motion to remove the project from the budget altogether.
The city should consider building a second bridge, she said. If something happens to the Robert Campbell Bridge, Riverdale would be cut off from the rest of Whitehorse. And the current bridge needs more than just a bike lane.
“I would rather have seen the bridge itself, if we’re going to spend the money on this bridge, see it widened and possibly go to four lanes. Then possibly that would help the traffic and the cycling situation,” said Irwin.
But that would cost much more.
“Essentially the bridge would have to be rebuilt,” said Brian Crist, the city’s director of infrastructure and operations. New lanes would require adding more supports in the Yukon River, he said.
Coun. John Streicker agreed. “To double a bridge, to effectively build a second bridge right alongside, is not $1.7 million. It’s an order of magnitude more,” he said.
In an emergency, drivers could travel across the dam, he said.
“It can be done,” agreed Cameron, who said he’s used that route in an emergency.
Riverdale residents will see more than the bridge change. The budget also includes $500,000 for installing new traffic lights at Lewes Boulevard and Hospital Road.
Water and sewage systems will be upgraded throughout the city. Water pipes in Hillcrest will be replaced. Another $1 million will be spent on landfill improvements, including creating a new cell, restoring the gatehouse area and investing in new composting equipment. A new pumper truck will be bought for the fire department. The city will also buy a new one-ton truck, transit bus, pothole patcher and loader.
The city has also set aside $250,000 to investigate replacing old city buildings with a new energy-efficient building.
While Stockdale’s motion to change the budget was defeated, two last-minute changes were made. Council unanimously approved adding $1.2 million for an emergency generator at the Canada Games Centre. Half of the cost will be covered by the city’s reserves. Federal funding, announced on Jan. 22, will cover the rest. The project was not included in the original budget because the funding had not been confirmed when it was made.
The city also added $250,000 to the 2014 budget to design upgrades for Wheeler Street.
Despite the debate Monday evening, Whitehorse city council received little public input on the 2013 capital budget. No delegates spoke at a public hearing on Jan. 14, and only three written comments were received.
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