The City of Pitt Meadows has spoken and it will not be a funding partner in the Harris Road underpass project, with city council voting unanimously at the April 18 council meeting.
By not becoming a funding partner in the Harris Road underpass project, the City of Pitt Meadows avoided having to contribute a non-refundable $5 million contribution, which CAO Mark Roberts said was a necessary move.
“The $5 million required contribution regardless of the outcome of the assent of the electors’ process presented too much risk for the city,” explained Roberts.
This electors’ process, otherwise known as a referendum, would have put the fate of the underpass in the hands of Pitt Meadows residents, who have been very outspoken at recent council meetings about their feelings regarding the $49.6 million that the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority was asking the city to contribute.
“Council has heard from the many residents who continue to support the Harris Road underpass but are opposed to the city becoming a funding partner, including concern for the significant long-term tax burden,” said Mayor Nicole MacDonald.
“A funding request of this magnitude is simply not viable for a small municipality. Borrowing $49.6 million over a 30-year term would have resulted in an approximate tax increase of $9,000 for the average single-family home.”
At the previous council meeting, a suggestion that was brought forward was to potentially use the budget for the new police detachment to help fund the underpass, but city staff member Justin Hart was quick to explain why that wouldn’t work.
“The expected costs for the RCMP detachment would not cover even half of the port authority’s requested funding contribution for the underpass,” said Hart.
Coun. Mike Manion further explained that even if the city council had wanted to try and fund this project, it would have resulted in major and devastating changes to the community.
“We’re a city of 20,000 people with a tax base of 78 per cent agricultural,” said Manion.
“Let’s assume for a moment that the city were to attempt to fund this project. What would that mean for our future? It would mean that future councils would have no alternative but to fight constantly to take land out of the ALR to industrialize. That’s the only way that they could pay for those taxes. We cannot be the catalyst for that type of future.”
The sudden need for city funding, which the port authority explained arose from construction cost inflation and unforeseen project site issues, was essential in order to keep the underpass project alive, according to port authority project manager Devan Fitch, who spoke at the March 28 council meeting.
But Pitt Meadows city council still has hope that this project will continue despite the decision to not provide any funding.
“Council will continue to proactively advocate for federal funding to help close the funding gap and has received strong regional and provincial support for this critical project that advances national, provincial, regional, and local interests,” said Mayor MacDonald.
“I feel that with proper collaboration, and working together, there still is a chance that we can get this critical infrastructure for our community.”
MP Marc Dalton said that the project has his full support and he was very disturbed by the initial news that the project cost had escalated so much.
”I’m really hoping that the provincial government will step in,” said Dalton.
But as Mayor MacDonald explained, the province is limited in how it can help right now.
“We’ve had a number of meetings with our MLA Lisa Beare as well as a number of ministries, including infrastructure and even Premiere Eby. They’re incredibly supportive of the project,” said the mayor.
“However, at this time, they’re walking in support and allyship as we approach the federal government, as this is not provincial jurisdiction.”
Without the underpass, the city is looking at significantly longer wait times on Harris Road, especially as CP Rail continues to move forward with its new logistics park, explained Coun. Gwen O’Connell.
“We’re going to become a main rail station here,” said O’Connell. “And once the logistics park is put in, the traffic is going to be enormous. We cannot stop the third line, so we need to work with other partners to figure out what we can do.”
A possible solution to make the project cheaper was to switch to an overpass, but the city presented several reasons why this would not be a viable option.
“The estimate from the overpass was taken from a very preliminary design and therefore, there are many unknowns associated with that, which could increase costs as more details are fleshed out,” said Hart.
He also clarified that CP Rail requires seven metres of clearance over its track, and with the added height of the overpass materials and sidewalk railings, the entire structure would likely be nine and a half to 10m tall, which he said would be a considerable height next to the Keystone condo complex, which stands only 13m in height.
One of the related projects to help ease traffic concerns surrounding CP Rail operations is the Kennedy Road overpass, which was initially paused in 2021 to give priority to the Harris Road underpass, and still remains paused according to Mayor MacDonald.
“As far as I know, it hasn’t been explored yet,” she said. “That would currently be with the lead on that project, which is the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.”
When asked, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority said that it was disappointed with the council’s decision and is “in the process of reviewing the future of the Harris Road underpass.”
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