A cross section showing the features of the Columbia Avenue Redevelopment project including curbs, gutters, bike lanes, landscaping, storm sewers, sanitary sewers and water mains. (Courtesy City of Castlegar)

Scope widens for Columbia Avenue redevelopment project

Castlegar’s main street will see big changes in the new year.

Castlegar city council voted in favour of adding an additional $2.29 million to the Columbia Avenue redevelopment project in order to replace the underground water and sewer utilities and upgrade the 17th Street railroad crossing.

The project has undergone several adjustments over the two years it has been in development. Phase 1 covers Columbia Avenue from 11th Street to 17th Street. The original cost estimate was $4.822 million. The city received $3.214 million in grant funding towards the project total leaving $1.6 million for the city to pay.

During the public feedback process, the city heard that residents wanted to see bike lanes on both sides of the street, rather than on one side as the original plans called for. Consultations with ICBC showed that two bike lanes were also considered safer. At the same time, council opted to move any aerial utilities and poles to the edge of the right of way as some are located in the middle of sidewalks. Adding the extra bike lanes and moving the poles added an additional $1 million to the project bringing the total to $5.9 million.

The new additions will bring the project total to $7.1 million, with the city paying $3.9 million. The scope of the project will now include sidewalks, curbs, gutters, cycle paths, road paving, water mains, storm sewers, sanitary sewers and an upgrade to the railway crossing to bring it up to new standards including lights, controls and crossing arms.

The project budget includes a $1.06 million contingency fund and city staff are pursuing additional grants to potentially bring the price tag down further. That included a Transport Canada grant to cover 80 per cent of the railroad crossing costs.

The city and CP Rail have jointly submitted the grant application. The city has, however, included the full amount of the cost of the project budget to be on the safe side in case the grant application is unsuccessful.

“From the last open house, the only change is the infrastructure,” explained Castlegar CAO Chris Barlow in an interview. He explained that in the last two years since the initial project was designed, the city received another grant from the province that enabled them to create an asset management plan.

“That has allowed us to model the sanitary and the storm [sewers] and to update the water model,” said Barlow. “That has allowed us to look at future capacities for those pipes for the next 20 to 30 years.”

The city will also be running services to all undeveloped lots in the project zone so that the road will not need to be torn up when someone builds there in the future.

Barlow says that as the pipes are nearing the end of their life cycle and taking into consideration climate change pressures and future development along Columbia Avenue that now is the best time to replace the infrastructure while the road will already be torn up.

“It just makes more sense to do it now,” he added.

Most of the city councillors agreed with Barlow, but Coun. Bruno Tassone was quick to declare that he would be voting against the project.

Tassone would like to wait longer before making a decision and rework the project for more cost savings.

“I’m not going to vote to spend another $3 million without going back to the public to discuss this,” he said.

Coun. Arry Dhillon was the first to speak in favour of the project.

“I am going to support it and that is because we are looking at a comprehensive, full approach. If you are going to do something once, do it right, do it all the way through,” said Coun. Arry Dhillon, completely on board with adding the infrastructure improvements.

He pointed out that a big portion of the increase was for the additional bike lane that was requested by residents. He also added that even though it is more expensive now, he feels it is a better use of money in the long run.

“If you are going to tear up the road … the impact that has on the business community — those businesses do not want constant construction going on in front of them,” Dhillon added further stating why he thinks it should all be done at once.

“I am not against the project — I’m against the cost of the project …” said Tassone, commenting that the project has gone over budget. “I think we need the infrastructure, I’m not disagreeing that we need to pave Columbia Avenue.”

Barlow responded by clarifying, “It’s not that it is over budget — it’s that we have increased the scope.”

Tassone also expressed concern that an asset management plan was not done before the original plans were created for the grant application and that all aspects weren’t included in the original plans that went to the public.

Barlow explained that the original grant funding was only available for a particular stream — roadway improvements and that underground infrastructure would not be included in the grant money. He also explained that the city has been inventorying and assessing the infrastructure, hence the request to replace the underground utilities during the project.

Coun Sue Heaton-Sherstibitoff also voiced her support for the project and for it to move forward in a timely manner.

“As long as we keep delaying this — prices go up year after year for construction. We have this grant, it has to be spent,” she said.

Coun. Dan Rye also spoke in favour of adding the underground infrastructure to the project, “I know it is a big increase … but for us to be prudent, if we are going to be digging up that road — this is the time to be doing it, not coming back in five years, in 10 years and dig it all up again.”

Rye also emphasized that businesses would be really unhappy with additional disruptions in the future.

The next step is the preparation of tender documents. The city hopes to put the project to tender as soon as possible for construction to take place as soon as the weather is cooperative in the spring.

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