The Other End of the Bridge

third crossing, environmental study, Kingston, OntarioTo spend, or not to spend?

That’s the question facing councillors as they debate whether to continue with an environmental impact study on a long discussed third crossing of the Cataraqui River.

The debate ended without a concluding vote after the last council meeting. It now looks like the debate will reignite next week when council meets again.

But will it come to any conclusion?

Before any crossing can be built, the provincial and federal governments require the city to analyze all the environmental and social implications of building a new bridge over the Cataraqui River. The cost for the environmental assessment is $1.7 million. To date, about $500,000 has been spent, according to city hall.

Going ahead with the second phase of the study means spending the remaining $1.2 million already allocated to come up with detailed designs, a business plan and completing federal assessment requirements. Proceeding doesn’t mean the city will build a new bridge. Whether to build would be a decision for the next council should this council decide to finish the environmental assessment.

Councillors may be reluctant to continue with the study over concerns about the optics of possibly committing millions of dollars on a new bridge during an international financial downturn, even though that’s not the decision this council would make.

But with an estimated price tag of $114 million for a two-lane bridge, or $181 million for a four-lane bridge, who can blame councillors for feeling a little skittish? That’s a major financial investment for Kingstonians, some of whom are still worried about debt levels arising from major capital projects over the past five years. (The city’s finance department has said Kingston’s debt levels are below provincially set limits.)

Another issue may be the analyses presented to councillors from traffic pattern experts. Is the causeway over capacity as consultants from J.L. Richards & Associates say, or is it the intersections at either end of the crossing that are at fault, as local traffic expert Bruce Todd says? If someone can break the deadlock, please step forward.

When councillors approved the 2007 capital budget, the first of the new term, they decided against spending money on the environmental study. At the time, I heard from some councillors that they wanted to show they were ready to slow things down after four years of major construction projects, several of which still had to be completed. But it was also a message that they didn’t think a bridge was the city’s top priority.

In 2008, the message I heard from one councillor was simple: Those who voted against the environmental study in 2007 had made their point. They didn’t mind spending the money on a study, but not before voicing concerns (a.k.a. grandstanding) about whether Kingston needs to build a new crossing.

The message was simple: We may approve this spending, but don’t think we’ll approve more in the future. Now political will for this project has disappeared.

To spend, or not to spend? It seems the latter will be the answer whenever this debate finally ends.

7 thoughts on “The Other End of the Bridge

  • Just build the blasted thing!
    People who want to go downtown or RMC / Ft Henry will do so via the Causeway – from whichever direction.
    Those who wish to bypass downtown because they want to get to the base of other items of interest 'on the other side' whould really enjoy not stopping at all of the red lights downown. The reduced congestion will encourage people who want to be downtown to go there.

    • Agreed!

      Considering the money that has been spent on other projects to the exclusive benefit of downtown in the last ten years, I think it is high time the city did something for the rest of us… Those who wish to go downtown, great, but for God's sake, let the rest of us bypass the traffic mess there and get on with our business.

      I think the comments section here sums it up:

      Too bad the city doesn't seem to be listening…

  • The cost of the Wellington St. extension hasn't been included in the cost of the bridge construction even though the projects are coupled. Without the third crossing, there is no need to extend Wellington to Counter. Realistically the third crossing cost estimates and its environmental assessment should include those associated with the Wellington St. extension.

    This would likely bring the project up to the $200 million mark (or more) as the Wellington St. extension calls for land to be acquired, a new road to be built all the way to Counter St, either an underpass or traffic circle where Rideau meets Montreal to accommodate Wellington St., or another intersection will be placed close to Rideau and Montreal. No one in the local government ever couples the cost of the 2 projects even though the city has previously stated that the Wellington St. extension will be built to accommodate the bridge traffic.

  • Has anyone done any modelling or predictions about what a third crossing will do to the pattern of development? I presume that faster crossing will speed the creation of new suburbs in the east end of Kingston. How much new development could be handled with this crossing before it too is bogged down? Clearly, the population east of the cat river is not a constant – it is a variable, influenced by the transportation links available.

    I'm not saying it shouldn't be built. In fact, perhaps it would help create a more compact city core by making growth happen in the east end but closer to the core (versus the rapidly-sprawling west end, with new developments increasingly distant from the core).

    But… can anyone speak to whether any research has been done to estimate the likely effect on the city's "footprint"?

  • The present growth plan for the city is to continue expanding west and north. The expectation is that if the third crossing goes in thousands of houses will be built on the east side, a huge % increase in the present population. Schmolka's argument is the bridge shouldn't advance until its decided if changing the growth pattern is desirable.

    Braebury already owns vast amounts of land on the east side they bought in anticipation of building subdivisions.. They made the news a number of years ago by clear cutting the trees before a by-law requiring approval for that was to start.

    The downtown business association wants the crossing to fuel this growth in the east and to keep them seen as the center of the city, and prevent gardiners road from eventually being literally the center

    • This is the type of land in thr east the clear cutting was done on those that would fight to "save" the field around the prison would have the city sprawl to instead
      "The property is designated as containing sensitive species and woodlands by the CRCA (you can zoom into this pdf map). It contains beavers, coyotes, deer, rose-breasted grosbeaks, white-throated sparrows, Nashville warblers, bohemian waxwings and many other species. Two snake hibernacula (“snake pits”) for ribbon and garter snakes have been found. At least one , black rat snake was sighted in the recent past (Canada’s largest snake). The endangered Henslow’s Sparrow has also been sighted in the past. The beaver pond is home to at least two frog species as well as numerous fish." .

      • Saving the prison farmland from being developed doesn't mean sprawl needs to happen. 'Smart Growth' is a term that comes to mind. Look at in-fill where underdeveloped, previously ignored sites of land are built up (think along Taylor Kidd behind the RioCan… this site was empty until a few years ago; think of the empty building lots on Princess St. between Division and Bath, these sites are perfect for mixed-use, high-density developments). Blaming those who want the prison farm saved for sprawl makes no sense. Not to mention many of the species you list as residing in the east end of town also make their homes in the prison field and the marshlands tangled throughout it.

        Saving the land surrounding the prison doesn't mean sprawl has to happen. Sprawl can be stopped, it just takes a council with insight and guts to do it. If you want to fight sprawl don't argue that the land surrounding the prison should be turned into a residential development… argue that the city needs to change its official plan and that it needs to reward smart growth techniques.

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