Town denied funding for underpass reconstruction

Whether the reconstruction of the Portage Avenue underpass will go ahead this year is up in the air as, for the second-straight year, the town didn’t get the dollars it was hoping for from the Canada-Ontario Rural Infrastructure Fund (COMRIF).
Operations and Facilities manager Doug Brown said he found out Friday that the town’s funding application for two-thirds of the $1.8-million project was turned down—and he’s determined to find out why.
“Lake of the Woods got money. Greenstone got money, Marathon, Sault Ste. Marie, Shuniah, Thunder Bay,” Brown noted. “I don’t know the reasons why [we didn’t get funding].
I’ve got a phone call in to the COMRIF project analyst and I haven’t heard from her yet.
“I’m very disappointed,” Brown added. “That asset isn’t going away, and this is second year that we’ve been declined. The job’s about $1.8 million, and we’ve got no funding support.
“What are we supposed to do? It’s deteriorating,” he stressed.
“I don’t know the reasons why. If I knew the reasons why, I’d probably feel a little bit better,” Brown continued. “I’m very disappointed we never got it, especially when we had a mudslide, and we took pictures and sent them in.
“I just want to make sure the application was sound, and it was just a political decision.”
Brown noted he applied for the COMRIF grant on Sept. 15 and never heard back until April 21.
“They said there was a 90-day turnaround and that politics weren’t supposed to be involved,” noted Brown. “And that’s totally ridiculous. They’re involved. The money was politically given out.
“We’re going to have to yell a bit more, I think.”
The funding requested would have covered two-thirds of the project, with the final third—about $600,000—to be picked up by the town.
Brown noted the town was ready to put the job out to tender. “We were ready to get rolling on it, but nothing has happened,” he remarked.
Brown said council will have to give direction as to what will happen next, but speculated the town may have to use the recent transportation funding from the province ($883,409) and federal gas tax money ($162,137) to partially pay for the $1.8-million job.
“The thing’s deteriorating. It’s not like it’s going away, it’s going to have be addressed in the next little while,” he warned.
If the underpass project ever does go ahead, the work would be done in two phases—the west side first, then the east side—and would take about 16 weeks to complete.
It would consist of replacing 180 metres of concrete from Third Street East to Fifth Street East and putting in new retaining walls, as well as a new sidewalk and handrail on the west side of the street.
The work also would include modifications to the railway abutment structures (installation of soil anchors), putting up new chain link fences, and upgrading to the storm sewer system (pump house and piping).
The existing roadway also would be reinforced and modified, with a view towards having an alternate truck route to the north sometime down the road.
One lane of traffic would be open at all times during the underpass work, and at no time should residents be forced to take alternate north-south routes (such as McIrvine Road or the emergency railroad crossing at Victoria Avenue).