Town to seek less funding for underpass

After previously deciding to ask the province to fund 100 percent of the Portage Avenue underpass project this spring, town council last night lowered that amount to 50 percent in order to hopefully improve its chances of receiving any dollars.
The decision to change the town’s funding application to the provincial Rural Infrastructure Investment Initiative (RIII) was spurred by an e-mail from the Ministry of Finance received by town administration late yesterday afternoon stating the town must submit its application by this Friday (Feb. 23).
CAO Mark McCaig noted in that same e-mail, “there seems to be rethinking on their part” as to how the application would be reviewed.
While town administration previously had been told by the ministry that the town could ask for up to 100 percent funding, with the town possibly getting approved for all of that, some, or none.
That’s why council voted to apply for 100 percent of the cost of the $2.1-million underpass project back on Jan. 15.
But McCaig said he now had been told the ministry would not undergo an in-depth review process, and consequently he felt from what he’d been told that they would take a look at an application and either grant an entire request or nothing at all.
“I’m somewhat perplexed. It’s contrary to the advice we’d been given,” McCaig remarked.
As such, council voted last night to reconsider asking for 100 percent funding if it meant improving the town’s chances of getting any portion of money.
Coun. Tannis Drysdale noted the RIII fund of $190 million was developed in December, with the aim “to encourage infrastructure and development in a more timely fashion.”
While no money from this particular fund has been doled out yet, other recent projects funded by the province, whether they were in the areas of tourism or health care, have been “50 cents on the dollar.”
Using that as an indicator, Coun. Drysdale suggested the town ask for 50 percent.
“If I read what they’ve written here, if we put in for 100 percent and another applicant goes for 50 percent, they will be more likely to get it,” noted Mayor Roy Avis, agreeing with Coun. Drysdale to apply for 50 percent of the total cost of the underpass project.
Coun. Paul Ryan concurred, adding, “We should be showing we’re putting some equity into the job ourselves.”
“I don’t like to play games, but I see what they’re saying,” noted Coun. Andrew Hallikas.
Couns. Drysdale, Hallikas, Ryan, and Sharon Tibbs voted in favour of the amendment while Coun. John Albanese, who felt the town still should ask for 100 percent funding, voted against it.
“We’re going too low,” he remarked.
As previously reported, the town is aiming to go ahead with the $2.1-million underpass reconstruction this spring but is hoping to get RIII funding to help cover the cost.
Contractor tenders have been awarded, and work is expected to commence the first week of May and be completed around mid-November.
Once underway, the work will be done in two phases—the west side first, then the east side.
It will 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 will 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 will be reinforced and modified, with a view towards having an alternate truck route to the north end sometime down the road.
One lane of traffic will 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).
Also at last night’s meeting, council:
•authorized “Fun in the Sun” committee chair Paul Bock to submit a financial request to the Department of Canadian Heritage’s “Celebrate Canada!” program;
•passed a bylaw to approve an amendment to an agreement with the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. for financing of a heritage tourism project under the Infrastructure and Community Development Program (this is to extend the completion date of Phase II of the heritage tourism project until March 31, 2008);
•approved a per diem claim for Coun. Sharon Tibbs in the amount of $120; and
•agreed to proclaim March as “Red Cross Month” in the Town of Fort Frances.