City Council appears to be full steam ahead with the development, planning, and construction of a “North Commuter” Bridge – at a current estimated cost of $85 million for just the bridge (the 10′s of km of new roads needed to serve the bridge are not included in that estimate).
The “North Commuter” Bridge is a separate piece of infrastructure from the long-discussed “North Perimeter” Bridge and Highway, which has been on the provincial and city planning horizon for years, and is apparently still at least a decade from reality.
When the “North Commuter” Bridge first entered our lexicon last year many Saskatoonian’s mistakenly thought the discussion was about the “North Perimeter” Bridge and Highway.
So where did the the “North Commuter” Bridge concept orginate?
An internet search pinpoints an announcement on March 15th by the City Administration regarding the Integrated Growth Plan – the blue print that will guide Saskatoon’s growth for the next couple of decades – and the transportation plans included within that plan (Proposed Plan, March 2012 here). An article in the Star Phoenix the following day suggests that a North bridge has been on the planning books for Saskatoon since 1999. However, as recent as 2007, official City planning documents indicate only one proposed North Bridge, the provincially driven “North Perimeter” Bridge and Highway, which was originally proposed in 2000, with no mention of a second North Bridge (2007 University Heights Sector Plan – here – compare the map on page 2 to the Commuter Bridge Map). Moreover, the Sector Plan for University Heights has not been officially changed by City Council to include the proposed “North Commuter” Bridge or it’s connecting roadways, including the proposed arterial road that will now bi-sect the ecologically sensitive Northeast Swale (according to the Sector Plan no arterial roadways are supposed to cross the swale).
The lack of any historical documentation suggests that the “North Commuter” Bridge appeared out of thin-air early last year.
While researching this file last month, I made a request to City Administration to provide any public documents that outlined the feasibility of the proposed “North Commuter” Bridge – specifically traffic impact studies, like the one conducted for the Traffic Bridge, that demonstrated the requirement for the Bridge. I was told that no such study existed. Infact, the study (Transportation Functional Planning Study) that will determine the feasibility of different river crossings and how they will impact future traffic won’t be completed until later this month.
Furthermore, its commonly held in the local engineering community that the “North Perimeter” Bridge and Highway would be a better use of public dollars, in terms of addressing traffic movement for the City as a whole (funny enough, the same was said about the South Circle Bridge, namely that the North Perimeter Bridge should have been built first).
So, the current City Council has already put into motion the development and construction of the “North Commuter” Bridge without ever seeing what impact it would have on current and future traffic movement, how the future “North Perimeter” Bridge and Highway would affect that same traffic, without officially amending the University Heights Sector Plan, or understanding how an aterial roadway will affect the viability of the Northeast Swale.
Perhaps there a good answers to these questions, and planning documents to back them up; however, it would be incumbent on both City Council and City Administration to present a more compelling case for the “North Commuter” Bridge before committing upwards of $100 million, plus, of public dollars to the project.