Transportation referendum project set to roll

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Sidewalks, bike lanes and crosswalks on Lower Ganges and Rainbow roads are on the horizon at last with Phase 2 of the North Ganges Transportation Plan contracted to begin.

The Salt Spring Transportation Commission transacted a major business item last Tuesday when commissioners voted to accept the lowest bid for the construction project, even though that bid came in significantly higher than the most recent cost estimate. Don Mann Excavating’s initial bid of $1,827,571 was nearly 23 per cent higher than the $1.49 million estimated by consultants at JE Anderson in April, while a second bid by Sparker Construction was 37 per cent higher at $2.048 million.

CRD staff negotiated a reduced price with Don Mann Excavating that brings it closer to 14 per cent higher than the estimate, for a total contract of $1.696 million.

“It’s expensive and I think we were all in agreement that it feels like a lot of money. We didn’t have any dissenting members, but we did have a lot of discussion about what we possibly could do,” commission chair Gayle Baker said after the meeting.

“It was a more difficult decision than you might think for the commissioners, staff and myself to come to,” said Salt Spring’s CRD director Gary Holman. “I think part of the quandary was, we could delay it but it wasn’t clear at all that we would get a better bid. It’s not clear that construction activity will wane, and in fact as we move through COVID recovery it will likely increase.”

A staff report notes the previous cost estimate  of $1.1-million done in 2017 was largely based on figures from 2013, when the first phase of the NGTP was completed. Inflation and COVID-19 factors related to staffing, supply and transportation went into the most recent costing.

SSITC had allocated $2.026 million for the project according to the five-year capital plan approved in 2018. That amount was changed to somewhat over $1.3 million in the five-year plan approved in 2020, so commissioners had to amend the plan at the May 26 meeting to account for $955,614 in extra spending this year.

Project funding comes partly through a $1-million special tax requisition that was collected over four years, of which $870,000 still remains in the project’s reserve fund. The fund generated another $85,000 in interest that will be used for the project. Previous CRD director Wayne McIntyre allocated an additional $685,000 in gas tax funds to the project. More than $258,000 has already been spent on designs, archeological permits, project management and property acquisition.

The construction contract requires the job to be completed within 165 days so Holman is expecting the improvements to be done by the end of the year, barring any new COVID-related upsets. The project will include a raised asphalt sidewalk/pathway — like the one created across from Country Grocer in phase one of the NGTP — and a designated bike lane on the “upland” side of Lower Ganges Road from just north of the intersection with Upper Ganges Road to Rainbow Road. The path will continue up Rainbow as far as the aquatic centre, connecting with an existing pathway.

Two crosswalks will be constructed in the Upper/Lower Ganges intersection. Holman said he and the commission will be pressing the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to install a pedestrian-activated crossing light at one of them.

Baker noted the project will resolve an important drainage issue on Rainbow Road with a new culvert going through, as well as adding important cycling and pedestrian infrastructure to the village core.

“It’s an important safety piece, and we would like to celebrate it,” said Baker.

She said work is scheduled to begin soon.

The high project cost unfortunately means the commission won’t have much left over for Ganges Hill improvements, as they were hoping would be the case. Work on the Lower Ganges Road pathway from Central to Baker Road is set to resume next week, however, with Shaw Family Grant funding in place and CRD parks and rec crews assigned to do the trail building work. Holman said he hopes to hear within the month about a grant application to Bike BC that would help with the second section between Baker and Booth Canal roads.

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