Council reverses course on federal infrastructure grant application

(Gazette file photo)
Closson Rd project replaces proposed County Rd. 4 rehabilitation

JASON PARKS

STAFF WRITER

Prince Edward County council has reversed course on direction of a federal infrastructure grant program, instructing staff to forward a case for fixing Closson Rd and an adjoining section of County Rd. 2 instead of staff’s recommended project that would see a section of County Rd. 4 and bridge spanning a spring stream that eventually runs into Consecon Lake rehabilitated.

At a Committee of the whole (COTW) meeting April 11, councillors received a report from staff recommending an application to the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP),  a federal program designed to create long-term economic growth, build inclusive, sustainable and resilient communities and support a low-carbon economy be made concerning a potential  $8.8 million project that would rehabilitate the aforementioned bridge and repair much of what is also known as Ben Gill Rd. from its terminus at Hwy. 62 to a point on Talbot St. at the Millennium Trail.

While this project exceeded the ICIP cap of $5 million (of which the municipality would be responsible for 16.67 per cent), municipal staff stated in a report tabled at the COTW meeting the County Rd. 4 project was  best suited to ICIP funding requirements given the eligibility criteria.

According to the report, this was  due to the high traffic counts of 4000+ cars per day that use the road and the deterioration of the bridge (considered to be the municipality’s most pressing need in terms of bridge rehabilitation) as well as “the perceived number of collisions that have occurred on this road compared to other eligible projects.”

The objective of the ICIP funding is to support improved and/or more reliable road and bridge assets as well as air and marine infrastructure that are near-term transportation improvement projects and among the top factors in determining a successful project is Criticality of Health and/or safety risk were road projects that were assessed in terms of reduction of collisions or collision severity and bridge projects assessed in terms of condition of structure determined through inspections as per Ontario Structure Inspection Manual (OSIM) in the last two years.

But the recommended proposal came with risk and also meant the municipality would be biting off a larger chunk of unplanned infrastructure costs.

The recommended County Rd. 4 project is budgeted at approximately $8.8 million, which would mean a $4.6 million dollar currently unbudgetted cost to The County between 2020 and 2026. 

The County Rd. 4 rehabilitation is not currently listed as a future capital project and this work has a high projected cost of $7.8 million. 

Moreover, the County Rd. 4 bridge is listed in the Capital projects list for 2020 at an estimated cost of $1 million. 

In total, the County Rd. 4 project would cost approximately $8.8 million, which means the County would be responsible for the balance of the project, approximately $4.6 million (including the 16.67% municipal share of $833,350). 

As a comparative, staff included an option b and it was that option Council decided to go with after a narrow 7-6 vote.

Closson Rd. has been identified in the Municipality’s capital plan for reconstruction in 2022 and although the estimated cost of this project (approx. $2.75 million) is below the maximum funding the County of Prince Edward  would be eligible to receive, the immediate proximity of County Rd. 2, listed as a capital project for  2021 at a cost of $1.5 million, and those projects could be combined for the context of the ICIP eligibility. 

The total project would approach the $5 million maximum at a projected cost of $4.25 million of which the a municipal contribution would be $708,475 presuming the application was successful.

In terms of usage, the report explained Closson Rd. and County Rd. 2 see considerable cycling traffic which is considered important in the technical schedule of the ICIP funding application. 

However, there have been few perceived collisions and much lower traffic counts (4,000 vs. 2,790) which are  also important eligibility factors. 

The report concluded “The Closson Rd. project may not meet the ICIP funding criteria as well as the County Road 4 project and, taking these criteria into consideration, staff recommends the rehabilitation of County Road 4.”

During a vote at the April 23 Council meeting, Councillors Ernie Margetson, Kate McNaughton, John Hirsch, Mike Harper, Bill McMahon, Janice Maynard and Mayor Steve Ferguson voted against the original motion that recommended County Rd. 4 and all seven voted in favour Margetson’s motion to move ahead with the Closson Rd. project.

Councillors Jamie Forrester, Phil Prinzen, Phil St. Jean, Bill Roberts, Brad Nieman and Stewart Bailey voted reciprocally.

In asking his colleagues to defeat the motion approved at the the Committee of the whole meeting earlier this month and forwarding the Closson Rd. project on to ICIP , Margetson said the choice has some benefit in that it meets the maximum amount of grant with the minimal amount of municipal top up and that road improvement would help economic activity and be to the benefit of businesses in Prince Edward County as well as finally deal with the condition of the road.

Number One priority.

“It’s my experience that Closson Rd has had a number of deteriorated portions for a long time,” Margetson said. “The past commitments to do this road have not been honoured and I feel all those items add up to making this an eligible project for (ICIP) funding.”

At the meeting, members of the Closson Rd. business community brought forward comments to council prior to the motion being read and presented councillors with petitions signed by customers and residents alike that are critical of the road’s condition, with some comments going as far as stating they would no longer drive on the road until it was repaired.

Councillor Jaime Forrester said it was concerning to him decisions like these driven could be driven by petitions and said it was would be simple for him as the representative of Athol ward to gather signatures on the upcoming May long weekend demanding Council make roads like County Rd. 18 and County Rd. 11 safer.

If Council was going to start listening to community groups and ignore current processes, the municipality would be opening up pandora’s box in his view.

“What happens if we start changing the procedure on how we go about managing our roads? We need to have this conversation before we start voting one offs,” Forrester said, adding he wondered about these commitments made concerning various roads. 

In speaking to councillor Forrester’s question, Acting Chief Administrative Officer Robert McAuley added the municipality has never made a commitment regarding  repair work Closson Rd. and explained that it was given three years of surface treatment but the road had deteriorated faster than anticipated.

In terms of swapping out the proposed projects, McAuley said there was a process in place to rate current and projected states and plan which roads would be repaired in a prescribed order and while Closson Rd. was a condition one (worst) road, the Picton end of County Rd. 4 (Talbot St.) was also a condition one as well and the state of that road would impact the ability to deliver development to the town.

Councillor Brad Nieman spoke of the taxpayers that use County Rd. 4 to commute to Belleville daily and said changing the grant application at this point would wind up costing the County even more in the future.

“We have the application to put a project forward that gives us the best possible chance to get the grant and if you don’t do that road now for $4 million, we are looking at $8-10 million two years down the road and where are we going to get that money? We don’t have that money,” Nieman said. “Over 4,000 cars travel that road every day. Those (motorists) travel everyday, they leave the county, they make the money it takes to live and pay taxes here and they come back.”

Nieman also mentioned the fatalities and other serious motor vehicle accidents that have occurred on County Rd. 4 in recent years.

“These aren’t just accidents, they are fatalities and not on one corner, there’s two or three places where these accidents happen. One day, the County is going to be sued and then we are going to be into big money there,” Nieman added.

Municipalities have until May 14, 2019 to make their application to the federal government.