LETTER – Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells responds to downtown business owner’s letter regarding Fifth Street Bridge

Dear editor,

A recent letter to the editor from Michael Gilbert had questions about the Fifth Street Bridge rehabilitation project. He asked why the City is not considering building a brand new bridge.

READ: Downtown business owner calls out ‘agenda-driven’ concillors

Your readers should be aware that our council is not making decisions on the Fifth Street Bridge lightly. We are basing these decisions on the best information available from consulting engineers specializing in bridge construction and rehabilitation.

Council has asked these experts about the merits of a new bridge vs. rehabilitation. They have all advised that our current bridge has not yet reached the end of its lifespan; if properly maintained, it has decades of life remaining. It would therefore be fiscally irresponsible to replace it. Estimated replacement costs would be in the range of $25 to 30 million.

In addition, widening the bridge was not recommended because it was determined that bridge traffic would encounter bottlenecks on the roads on either end of the bridge. Any traffic improvements would therefore be minimal and would not justify the substantial additional cost.

Mr. Gilbert’s letter incorrectly stated that council voted against keeping at least one lane open during construction. In fact, earlier this year council approved an additional $700,000 to ensure at least one lane of traffic could be kept open during construction. While a full closure would be faster, and less costly, council recognizes the impact this would have on the community. And while the work schedule has not yet been finalized, working overnights would not eliminate these traffic impacts. Also, overnight work may have noise impacts for the surrounding area. The entire bridge will need to be covered in scaffolding and wrapped, which in turn narrows the available bridge deck and height for vehicles. This scaffolding will remain in place for a significant portion of the project.

Staff and consultants will be providing more information to council in January on traffic management, as well as the results of feedback received from the open house, stakeholder meetings, and online survey. We’re also carefully considering the recommendations from Courtenay’s recently completed Transportation Master Plan as well as the Parks and Recreation Master Plan, which both involved extensive community input from neighbouring jurisdictions, businesses, residents, and other stakeholders and organizations.

This project will remove lead paint, address the corrosion underneath, repair the steel and deck, and recoat and repaint – all while protecting the environment and sensitive ecosystems that surround it.

Courtenay takes the responsible management of our community’s infrastructure very seriously; we’re the first municipality in B.C. to adopt an asset management bylaw that formally outlines our commitment to the renewal, upgrade, and acquisition of the City’s assets. Much like a house, proper maintenance can extend the lifespan of our assets, which in turn lowers total long-term costs. The Fifth Street Bridge is just one example of this work.

Anyone looking for more information on the Fifth Street Bridge Rehabilitation Project is encouraged to visit www.courtenay.ca/fifthstreetbridge, where you can sign up for the project e-newsletter to stay informed throughout the project.

One thing from Mr. Gilbert’s letter we can agree on is the need for less divisiveness. This project will be a significant challenge, and all of us will need to work together. Courtenay council and staff have forged a strong relationship with the Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association, and recognize that downtown businesses and the community at large want to ensure we’re taking every possible step to minimize impacts from this construction when it occurs in 2021. We thank the public in advance for their ideas, understanding, and respectful engagement during this process.

Mayor Bob Wells,

Courtenay

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