The Walterdale Bridge: An Open Letter to the Mayor and City Councilors | By Mike Royer

Dear Mayor and City Councilors,

City Administration has not been completely honest with you concerning the projected costs of scrapping the existing Walterdale bridge, once its replacement has been completed. Throughout the decision-making process, not only have they repeatedly changed their reported projections, but they have also withheld and concealed vital information from you. At last week’s Transportation Committee meeting alone, virtually every statement made by Administration concerning the old bridge was either deceitful or inaccurate in some way.

When asked what it would cost to demolish the existing bridge, the response given to Councilors was $2 million. $2.5 million is what Administration estimated it would cost to demolish the Walterdale bridge, back in April 2011. A more recent number that they released, in a cost estimate attached to their report of November 15th, 2011 was $4 million. Not only have they in fact estimated that it would cost $4 million to demolish the existing bridge, but they have admitted that their estimates do not include the cost of reconditioning its remnants for re-use or other purposes.

When asked what the lifespan of the old bridge would be, if it were to be refurbished and used for cyclists and pedestrians, Administration answered by saying that it would cost $2 million per year to maintain it. Not only is this not the answer to the posed question, but it is also inaccurate. In the cost estimate attached to their report of November 15th, 2011, Administration pegged maintenance on the old bridge at $240 thousand annually. Additionally their report suggested the old bridge could last between 25 and 50 years, before needing additional rehabilitation work or removal. 50 years is perfectly in line with lifespan estimates for the Low-level and Dawson bridges, which recently underwent similar rehabilitations for continued use as vehicle bridges, and there is no reason the lives of these bridges could not be further extended in the future, with additional rehabilitation work. A number that Administration has attempted to cover up, is the exact cost and extent of rehabilitation work that the new bridge will require in 50 years time. It has only been provided as a footnote and was lumped in with maintenance costs.

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At the meeting Administration claimed that the old bridge should be removed, as it would be impossible to run a multi-use trail underneath of it, which is also inaccurate. Not only is it possible to run a trail under both bridges, but they have in fact themselves produced renderings, showing what it could look like. These renderings were attached to the report of November 15th, 2011.

When asked if they had re-examined the merits of retaining the old-bridge and whether or not it could reduce the additional $19.5 million they were requesting to build the new one, Administration’s answer was, not surprisingly, that they hadn’t considered it. These examples illustrate the sort of useless, inaccurate and misleading information that was provided last week. But this is only one meeting. The same sorts of inaccuracies and half-truths have been part and parcel to every report that Administration has provided to City Council concerning this project. They have repeatedly and unwaveringly bent the truth to make retaining the old bridge appear to be expensive and impractical.

Utility relocation plans and costs are but one example of this. In their April 2011 Cost Summary, Administration estimated that it would cost $5 million to relocate utilities currently being carried by the old bridge; however, in their November 15th report of the same year, they stated “The city is not obligated to maintain or relocate existing utilities.” They later write that “Administration does not support the relocation of existing utilities to the new bridge.” In the FAQ they released in February 2013, they changed their tune again, stating that they are “working with utility companies to come up with a mutually agreeable plan to address their specific needs. Possibilities include relocating utilities onto the new bridge and assessing alternate locations if necessary.” The truth is they have in fact estimated that the cost of relocating utilities could be in excess of $10 million.

As was done at the May 1st meeting, Administration has repeatedly attempted to inflate and bring the meager maintenance costs of the old bridge to the forefront of any discussion of re-purposing it, while at the same time camouflaging the projected costs for maintenance of the new bridge. The cost comparison that they attached to the November 15, 2011 report is a perfect example of this, as they lump the maintenance costs for the old bridge in with the initial construction costs, while leaving maintenance costs for the new bridge as a footnote. It is probable that if the curved pedestrian walkway were omitted from the new bridge’s design, it would reduce the $25 million the new bridge will require in maintenance and rehabilitation, over the next 50 years.

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What I am trying to get across to you here, is that Administration has not been providing City Council with the sort of quality information you require to make an informed decision concerning the retention or demolition of the existing Walterdale bridge. The frequent inconsistencies and incomplete nature of the information they have presented and will likely continue to present, can only be explained as either incompetence or a hidden agenda that contravenes the best interests of the citizens of Edmonton.  As you are likely already aware, they were asked last week to look into whether or not funding previously earmarked for the Rossdale funicular can now be applied to the new Walterdale bridge. It is unlikely that River Valley Alliance funding can be used for the new vehicle bridge, but very likely that the these funds could be applied to re-purposing the existing Walterdale bridge, which would not only reduce the cost of the overall project, but free up more funding for use on the new bridge. I hope Administration is investigating this possibility, but I strongly doubt that they will look beyond applying this funding directly to the new bridge.

So how do the numbers work out then? Administration would have us believe that it would cost an additional $29 million to retain the old bridge, but like much of what they have told us this is also inaccurate. Based on their own numbers, here is the construction scenario we would be facing today had the decision been made by Council , back in 2011, to omit the pedestrian walkway from the new bridge and to re-purpose the old one for pedestrians.

$135.5 M (Build new bridge) – $13 M (Omit walkway) – $4 M (No demolition of old bridge) = $118.5 M

$118.5 M + $10 M (Rehabilitation Old Bridge) = $128.5 M

This $128.5 million is $7 million lower than the $135.5 million we started with, $135.5 million being Administration’s scenario for demolishing the old bridge, so it now becomes apparent that today we would only require an additional $12.5 million and not $19.5 million, if we were planning to re-purpose the existing bridge. If we then consider that the $10 million for rehabilitation and conversion of the old bridge to a pedestrian only bridge could potentially come from the River Valley Alliance funding, as previously discussed, it is apparent that had the decision been made to re-purpose the old bridge two years ago, we would now only be faced with $2.5 million in missing funding. Much better than the $19.5 million that Administration is pushing for, and that’s without even considering possible utility relocation costs that could be saved. Yes, as they have pointed out we would then have to spend $240 thousand a year to maintain the old bridge, but this is next to nothing in the grand scheme of this project.

In essence this would be a win-win scenario. We would still get an iconic new bridge, we would save money, improve traffic flow and most importantly we would also get a dedicated pedestrian bridge with more space and a more peaceful atmosphere than can possibly be achieved by any walkway on the new bridge. It is not too late to do this. Please don’t approve the additional $19.5 million that Administration is requesting for the new bridge. Please don’t take what they tell you at face value, because they have proven that they can’t be trusted to give you all the details. Please look for a better deal than what they are pushing on us. We have more to gain, by revising and re-tendering the plans and construction contract for the Walterdale bridge, than we have to lose by accepting the deal that has been placed before us.

Respectfully,

Michael Royer

Ward 6

CC photograph by “sahlgood” on Flickr

The two photos within the article are taken from the City Administration report of November 15 2011. 

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