Business owner blasts council about cantilever option

Downtown business owner Michael Gilbert chastised members of Courtenay council at its last meeting for including cantilevers in the repairs to the 5th Street Bridge.

Gilbert, co-owner of Michael’s Off Main restaurant on 4th Street, feels certain memebers of council are following a single-minded agenda that is not in the best interest of taxpayers.

“You cannot afford to lose the trust of the citizens of Courtenay or that of the Comox Valley,” Gilbert said in a presentation Aug. 19. “I would really like to know who in their right mind would come up with an idea like cantilevers? Let me guess. It would be a lopsided, one-minded mayor and council that have their own agenda, and they’re going to make sure it happens, whether right or wrong, in the name of the environment and saving the planet.”

Cantilevers will add $2 million to an estimated $6.3 million to recoat and renew the bridge deck, and increase the construction period from six to eight months. At committee of the whole June 24, Couns. Manno Theos and Doug Hillian opposed a motion from David Frisch to include cantilevers in the bridge rehabilitation project.

“You are not addressing our traffic problem at all,” Gilbert said. “Fifth Street Bridge is a natural bottleneck. After $8.5 million and eight months or longer, we will still have a traffic problem on lower 5th Street. Your cantilevers are a bad idea, and do not deserve one dollar of taxpayer money.”

Gilbert said most Comox Valley residents do not ride bicycles.

“We have a large rural area with limited public transportation. Bikes and their riders are a small minority of our population, at least for now. So be a little more conservative and patient. First thing’s first.”

He asked council to admit the time is wrong for cantilevers — which some have referred to as “Pigs with lipstick” — and to select the first repair option at $6.3 million.

Gilbert advocates adding a third lane to the bridge.

“Three lanes on one side, three lanes on the other side with only a two-lane bridge. What you have at the end will be a walkway, bike lane, viewing spots and no more traffic problems.”

Frisch struggles to see where a third lane would be constructed. Gilbert said it would be separate from the bridge and run into Simms Park.

Coun. Melanie McCollum said the idea for a widened pathway was forwarded by City staff.

“When we’re making improvements to our city, we’re looking at imperfect solutions, because we’re not starting with a clean slate,” she said. “I think there’s a perception here that by providing wider access across the bridge for something other than vehicle traffic, that there’s this idea that we think everybody should be on a bike and travelling across the bridge in that manner, and that’s not the case. We’re wanting to provide better safety. The way it’s set up right now, when bikes are crossing the bridge they’re having to enter into the traffic lane…That’s part of the issue, there is not enough width on these narrow little lanes for a vehicle and a bike to travel together across the bridge.”

Coun. Wendy Morin, who is a walker, has received compliments about the cantilever idea from people with mobility issues and from parents with strollers.

“While I understand that you may perceive the council to be just pro-cyclists, I think there are a lot of other people who would benefit from this idea,” Morin said. “We’ve seen that when we postpone decisions, as well, we incur huge costs.”

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