Decision on downtown rail bridge delayed

For the second time in two months, Victoria city council delayed its deadline for the rail component of the new Johnson Street Bridge.

The prolonged indecision could either save the future commuter line or end up costing taxpayers an extra $700,000 due to extra planning.

The issue dates back to commitments made in the referendum on bridge spending.

In November, Victoria residents voted “yes” to spending $77 million on a new bridge, without rail.

The project scope came with one caveat: if senior levels of government agreed to share the $12 million cost by December, Victoria would add rail to the project.

Come December, council abandoned its deadline. Instead it sent funding requests to the Union of B.C. Municipalities for $6.5 million and neighbouring municipalities for $5.5 million.

Last Friday, council deliberated on a staff recommendation to nix rail, in light of the fact that no funding commitments have come through.

The timelines are tight, argued consultant Francis Hartman.

“Making decisions in a timely fashion is absolutely critical to the success of the project,” said Hartman.

Project delays would likely result in increased steel costs, increased labour costs, and could result in the loss of the city’s $21 million federal grant. Instead of heeding its staff’s advice, council voted to wait at least two more weeks.

On Feb. 15, the CRD board will decide whether to commit $5.5 million toward the cost of the rail project.

The process goes back to October, when the Capital Regional District board backed Victoria’s idea to seek gas tax funding to finance the rail bridge.

But facing a $5.5 million shortfall, Victoria’s asked municipalities along the E&N rail line — Esquimalt, View Royal, Colwood and Langford — to chip in money, although the message seemed to have gotten lost in the shuffle.

Victoria suggested a funding breakdown where Esquimalt paid $690,000; View Royal $340,000; Colwood $570,000; and Langford $870,000. Victoria would pay $3 million.

Langford chief administrator Jim Bowden said the City had received no formal request for funding, although council supports the bridge as a regional project.

View Royal council received a letter from Victoria requesting help, but also thought all CRD municipalities should contribute to the rail bridge.

West Shore mayors held a last-minute meeting last week with Victoria, and reenforced its position that the $5.5 million bill should be spread across the CRD.

“(Victoria) was told it shouldn’t just be West Shore municipalities, that it needs to be taken back to the regional board,” said Colwood Mayor Dave Saunders. “It’s either ask everybody or not at all.

“The West Shore clearly supports the concept (of a rail bridge), and that support was unanimous at the CRD board.”

—with files from Edward Hill

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