Quesnel city council approved a plan to apply for a $6 million federal grant to repair the Johnston Bridge.
If approved, the Canada Community Building Fund in B.C. would cover around half the total cost of the project, as inflation in recent months has skyrocketed the cost of construction across all projects.
The repair would restore the bridge to full capacity (63,500 kg), and extend service life for 15-20 years.
In December of 2021, the estimate to repair the bridge was $5.8 million. With heavy construction inflation over the early months of 2022, that estimate would now be $8.8 million.
According to a report written by the director of capital works and infrastructure Chris Coben, the total cost of the project, including replacing a water main line which runs across the bridge, is now guessed to be $11.4 million.
Coben called the inflation since the December estimates, which is projected to be four per cent a month, “unprecedented.”
The bridge’s repair cost has been anticipated for the past few years, with council discussing different options available to the city, and making sure capital reserves were healthy to cover the potential costs.
At a May 2021 meeting, council approved the most comprehensive and expensive option as the preferred direction for the bridge.
City Manager Byron Johnson added his support to Coben’s recommendations in an attachment to the report.
“An important principle of emergency management is having redundancy of routing options in the event of sections of Highway 97 being out of commission, or if Maple Drive becomes unusable,” he wrote.
“Under this option, council would still retain the right to limit the allowable load capacity of the bridge for everyday use.”
Because the Quesnel River Bridge is on Highway 97, any repairs or replacements for that bridge are the responsibility of the provincial government, not the city.
If Quesnel’s grant application is approved, work on the bridge could begin as soon as summer of 2023, with the project scheduled to go out to tender in early 2023.
If Quesnel receives the full $6 million in grant money, the rest of the project’s cost is planned to be covered by the city’s utility reserve funds ($2.35 million) and their capital reinvestment reserve (up to $3.1 million).
Without those funds, Quesnel would be going to a referendum to approve the spending, and Mayor Bob Simpson warned the project’s effects could be wide-reaching.
“This single bridge is really putting a wrench into our capital planning,” he said.
Simpson suggested Quesnel council ask the provincial government to help cover the cost to Quesnel ratepayers, and councillors agreed.
After approving the recommendation to apply for the grant and begin work on the project, they passed a resolution to go to the B.C. government for help covering the additional $5 million.
“It would be great for us to do some leveraging to get this bridge repaired as a regional asset, not just as a city asset,” Simposn said before the second resolution was passed.
Council also approved spending $400,000 from the capital reinvestment reserve to begin design work on the repairs.
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