Coucil Goes Late to Approve a 2-Lane Bridge on Niska Road

It was in some respect an issue more contentious than the budget itself, a packed house came out Thursday to see a staff report on the fate of the one-lane Bailey Bridge on Niska Rd., hear public delegations, and listen to council’s debate and decision on the matter. Sometime after midnight, despite an overwhelming number of people in attendance representing the status quo, the fate of the bridge was sealed: Niska Rd.’s route over the Speed River will now be two-way.

The staff recommendation included the removal of the Bailey bridge, a temporary measure built in 1942 after the old bridge fell into the Speed, and also called for improvements of the one kilometre stretch along Niska Rd. including new sidewalks, on street parking, traffic calming measures like raised surfaces and signage, and stop lights at the nearby intersection at Niska and Downey.

The new bridge, according to staff, would be two-lanes, and their choice was a “Pony Truss” style bridge that reflected the cultural heritage of the area and better fit in with the natural landscape. The total cost for construction would come in at $5.28 million; $600 million more than if council decided to go with a Steel Girder-type bridge design.

After 23 delegations, all but one of whom was against a new bridge, council had two hours of debate on the proposal. Shortly after midnight, the writing was on the wall. By a vote of 12-1, council voted to accept the Environmental Assessment (EA), while a 9-4 vote saw the approval of the staff recommendation without the creation of signals at Niska and Downy; an amendment that passed 13-0 from Ward 4 Councillor Christine Billings.

For the record, Councillors Bob Bell, James Gordon, Mike Salisbury and Andy Van Hellemond were the dissenting votes.

Before calling the vote, Mayor Cam Guthrie said “some people may be going home not liking the result.” With the die apparently cast, one woman from the gallery rose and left saying, “What a f**king joke.” It was one example of the high emotions running throughout the full house of citizens in the gallery that came to City Hall to either speak against the new bridge or support those that were.

Several of the councillors, like the song says, we’re looking for some way out of this. Aside from the concern about preserving the natural surroundings, a few on council we’re concerned about this construction becoming the first step in Niska Rd. being turned into a major artery.

Salisbury wondered if it didn’t make more sense to turn Stone Rd. into an arterial road, and thus spare Niska the fate, and inquired if city staff could start preparing reports into its viability. There is a new Transportation Master Plan in the pipe for 2017, and Salisbury wondered if it made sense to move that up and include the investigations into a westward artery on Stone. Staff said such a study would take two years, and the ultimate cost would be millions of dollars more.

Ward 5 Councillor Leanne Piper said that council would likely face a similar showdown from residents if and when the Stone Rd. plan came before council. On top of it all, Piper said, they were presuming that Niska Rd. would become a de facto arterial road.

Another move to preserve the one-lane bridge came from Gordon, who reacted to one delegation that said she had received a letter from the Ontario Heritage Ministry saying the whole area of the Hanlon Creek Conservation Area (HCCA) could be declared a heritage site and preserved in perpetuity since no other law can supersede the Heritage Act. Gordon made a motion to explore this option, which failed 9-4. Derrick Thompson, Deputy CAO for Public Services, said that he hadn’t seen the letter from the delegate and couldn’t say whether the details in it were correct.

Ultimately, there were two concessions made to those wanting preservation over modernization. Piper put forth a pair of motions, one to look at getting Heritage protection for the land, and the other to preserve the Bailey bridge in one piece. The first motion passed 13-0, and the second passed with 12 in favour and Bell being the one vote against. Removal of the bridge has already been factored into the cost of construction, but there will be eventual cost to moving and reinstalling the bridge else where.
Another motion to begin the design consultation process was also passed 13-0.

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