Lake Country’s director of infrastructure says adding the CN Rail corridor to the district’s transportation network won’t solve the issue of aging roads but does fit in well with the 20-year Transportation for Tomorrow plan.
Greg Bucholz says criticism of the district’s road’s infrastructure program in the past month has to be put into perspective for people comparing the $2.6 million referendum question with a $30 million dollar backlog of needed road improvements.
“We are talking about a $2.6 million expenditure,” said Bucholz. “Not spending this money does not fix the issue (of roads). It doesn’t solve the problem in the short term. In the long term it can be part of the solution. That corridor would be a very useful alternative to the car. It helps our vulnerable users…kids and people that can’t afford vehicles, transit users. You have a really nice corridor that links up to many of our amenities.”
Much has been made about the district’s shortfall when it comes to its aging roads in the lead-up to the referendum. And Bucholz admits it’s one of the biggest issues facing Lake Country and isn’t going to go away, whether residents pass the CN corridor referendum or not.
“Not spending this money ($2.6 million on rail corridor) does not fix that (roads) issue,” said Bucholz. “It does provide an active transportation route and this is a lot of what our Transportation for Tomorrow plan is all about. It’s providing an alternative to cars and active transportation routes.”
Lake Country began work in earnest on the Transportation for Tomorrow plan in the spring of 2010 after nearly 900 residents signed a petition asking for safety improvements focusing on pedestrians and cyclists. That came after the tragic death of Josie Evans on Bottom Wood Lake Road.
The first phase of the plan was put in place by the fall of 2011 and Bucholz says “although we have made a lot of progress in the last five years we have a lot more to do.”
Resident Guy Bissonette says the true cost of the rail corridor purchase is $5.1 million when you add in the portion Kelowna is buying and Lake Country will eventually pay back. And he said that money would be better spent on the district’s infrastructure.
“I think it’s irresponsible to take $5 million out to spend it on something we don’t really need,” said Bissonette. “How many millions of dollars of projects are sitting on the books because we can’t afford it but all of the sudden we can take out a loan to purchase a trail?”
The district has a network of 200 kilometres of roads, many of which will need to be replaced and staff is now putting together a financial plan to present to council on how to fund improvements over the next 20 years.
That plan will likely need to be funded through local taxpayers and although nothing has been decided or brought to Lake Country council at this point, funds needed over the next 20 years equal about an average of $250 per house, per year, said Bucholz.
“We’ve been working on this since I started with the district five years ago,” said Bucholz. “What I am taking away from it is people do understand the issue with our aging roads. When it comes to purchasing the corridor I think if not purchasing it solved our problems that would shed a different light on it. But it doesn’t. In fact I think it can help. The fact is this is not unique to us. Aging infrastructure is an issue across North America.”
Bucholz says in general the public is going to have to pay for upgrades to infrastructure. And they have already been doing so. In Lake Country next year will be the final year of five straight years of a $50 increase in water rates to fund the district’s water master plan.
“With the water master plan we are getting to a point where we will be sustainable for the long term and achieve rate stability as well,” said Bucholz. “The one remaining gap is with roads if and we are looking at how exactly we finance it.”