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Budget 2023: Ballooning cost to fix Thunderbird Viaduct worries city hall

The bridge’s replacement is one of the major capital projects in the 2023 budget, which council discussed during its Nov. 30 meeting. 

The Thunderbird (Fourth Avenue) Viaduct bridge replacement is nearly ready to start, but city hall is concerned that the project’s costs continue to balloon while current funding remains inadequate.

The bridge’s replacement is one of the major capital projects in the 2023 budget, which council discussed during its Nov. 30 meeting. 

According to a report from the engineering department, the initiative is shovel-ready, pending Canadian Pacific Railway’s approval of the structure’s design and related permitting requirements. 

“The city is continuing mediation with CP to confirm a cost-sharing agreement for Thunderbird, which allows for the continuous and uninterrupted services of CP Rail’s operations,” the report stated. 

Bevan Harlton, director of engineering, explained that the financial request for road-related infrastructure projects is more than $44 million from 2023 to 2027, similar to this year’s request. 

For 2023, the department plans to spend $5.9 million to upgrade roads and sidewalks. 

The department is attempting to fund the Thunderbird Viaduct bridge at the same time as these other projects even though costs continue to increase, while it has not been able to lock in CP Rail’s contributions, Harlton said. As the project’s timeline lengthens, that affects other infrastructure projects in the queue. 

For example, the department had originally budgeted road paving work at $18 million over five years but decreased that to $13.25 million. 

The city has budgeted $2.3 million next year for bridge rehabilitation, while it has over $3.7 million in carry-forward money it will also apply.

Another project example is a structure maintenance plan, where the department can schedule operations, maintenance works and capital projects and then bring them to council for approval, he continued. However, those can’t be completed until the viaduct is finished.

“So, overall, transportation sits at a status quo submission, but it is at a detriment to other projects in transportation,” Harlton stated. 

While there is nearly $4 million in carry-forward money for the bridge, construction costs continue to skyrocket — by 30 per cent — which means that carry-forward money is less effective on the overall budget.

City manager Jim Puffalt pointed out that city hall does not know how it plans to fund the bridge rehab project with the money it has, which means it may have to look internally to fund the initiative.

The engineering department is in a good position to complete the structure management plan next year and better understand how to maintain and address infrastructure-related capital projects, Harlton said. However, that means pushing funding for the bridge out to 2027.

“I do hope that at some point that with cost-sharing — some gains on cost-sharing (or) potentially some grant funding — I can come to council sooner … and actually get that project done,” Harlton added. 

The director added that he would present a more comprehensive report about the bridge rehabilitation during a later budget meeting. 

The next budget meeting is Monday, Dec. 5. 

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