A project to build an overpass over CN tracks on Hwy16 west of Terrace has been cancelled, but the budgeted money should stay in the region, officials advocate. (file photo)

Keep highway money in region, officials say

At stake is more than $30 million from shelved overpass project

Area elected officials say money budgeted for a now-shelved vehicle bridge over the CN tracks where they cross Hwy16 between Terrace and Prince Rupert should stay in the region for other highway projects.

At stake is more than $30 million from the federal and provincial governments first committed four years ago for an overpass that would eliminate a twisty ‘S’ curve bisected by CN’s tracks on Hwy16 approximately 28 miles west of Terrace.

The project was shelved last week after the provincial government revealed construction would be far more expensive than first contemplated.

The original commitment was $17.5 million from the federal government and $19.5 million from the province and with the federal commitment capped, that left the province to come up more money if required.

READ MORE: Province shelves Hwy16 overpass project

Current projections would have doubled the provincial cost to $40 million, something it said wasn’t feasible. It instead is spending $5 million on new guardrails and improved signage at the location.

That leaves the original $17.5 million federal commitment and $14.5 million from the province once it spends $5 million on safety improvements this summer. And it’s this amount, $32 million in total, which both Skeena Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen and Skeena BC Liberal MLA Ellis Ross say should stay in the region.

“First, I should say I’m disappointed at this news,” said Cullen of the news the overpass project won’t go ahead.

The level crossing is the last of its kind along Hwy16 within B.C. and replacing it with an overpass was touted as a safety measure and in recognition of the growing volume of rail traffic to and from Prince Rupert’s port operations.

Cullen said he favours having both the federal and provincial monies stay in the region.

“They’ve already allocated that money,” Cullen noted specifically of the federal department called Infrastructure Canada which parcels out money across the country in cost-sharing partnerships with provincial governments.

In a letter sent to federal transport minister Marc Garneau, Cullen said there are “numerous other projects which could benefit from federal support along Hwy16.”

“I ask that you work with Terrace Council to identify other infrastructure improvement projects that could benefit from the already-allocated funding and that you consider moving this money to support those efforts,” Cullen wrote.

One project in the area that could meet the spirit and intent to improve safety in relation to CN’s tracks surfaced last year when the City of Terrace commissioned a design and potential costs of a pedestrian overpass over CN’s railyard in Terrace.

READ MORE: Council finds pedestrian overpass too expensive

That design envisioned a pedestrian overpass near the George Little House adjacent to the former Terrace Co-op location but it also was shelved because of the probable $11.2 million cost and the refusal of CN to consider selling property for its construction.

While not commenting specifically on any one project, Cullen did say residents have raised the desire to improve walking and cycling connections between the north and south sides of Terrace.

“When I used to hold pre-budget consultations that came up consistently in Terrace —walkability and cyclability,” Cullen said.

Also expressing disappointment was Ross, saying the news of the overpass cancellation was unexpected.

“I had been in touch with the [district office of the provincial transportation and infrastructure ministry] all along. That certainly wasn’t the impression I was getting,” he said.

While Ross said he’d also pursue having the money stay in the area, he suspected, at least for the provincial amount, it had already been spent somewhere else.

“The government giveth and the government taketh away,” he said.

And although Terrace is getting $8.2 million from a recently-announced one-time grant program, Kitimat is getting just $1.5 million and both communities need more for infrastructure because of LNG development.

A statement from the provincial highway and infrastructure ministry said its $14.5 million original overpass commitment, the amount left after making the $5 million in safety improvements at the location this summer, “will be reallocated as appropriate”.

An Infrastructure Canada statement said its programs are “designed to be flexible and responsive to the needs of our partners.”

“In the event that the Government of Canada is informed of a project that has been cancelled, the federal funding which has already been approved for that project could be invested in other eligible public infrastructure projects that a province or territory deems a priority.”

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