Underpass project in limbo COMRIF funding didn’t pan out

It isn’t certain whether reconstruction of the Portage Avenue underpass will go ahead next month because 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 Thursday the town’s funding application for two-thirds of the $1.9-million project was turned down—and he’s determined to find out why.
Brown noted he contacted COMRIF this week, and was told there may be a problem with the application. But he still is waiting for more details.
“I don’t know if it’s a timing thing, or whether there wasn’t enough information,” he remarked.
“But I’m having a hard believing that,” he added, noting the town’s funding request fell within COMRIF’s criteria and that the application was submitted prior to the deadline.
The funding requested would have covered two-thirds of the project, with the final third—about $650,000—to be picked up by the town.
Whether the town still will go ahead with the project remains to be seen, said Brown, who will report the news formally to town council at this Monday night’s meeting.
He added the town had put the job out to tender, and it came back well within the previously-budgeted cost. The project was on track to begin next month.
It’s entirely up to council what will happen next, said Brown, adding the project could be delayed for another year, or council could decide to go ahead with it and foot the entire bill—which potentially could mean dipping into reserves, a tax hike for local ratepayers, or a combination of both.
Brown noted only eight communities in Northwestern Ontario got a piece of the $250 million COMRIF had allocated between a total of 120 projects across the province.
“In the Kenora-Rainy River District, only Kenora and Ear Falls received grants. Rainy River District didn’t get any money at all,” said Brown, adding the other six grants were allocated to municipalities in the Thunder Bay-Superior North riding.
As previously reported, the town has been wanting to do the underpass project for several years because the roadway and sidewalks there are in disrepair.
It was anticipating getting it started in May.
The work on the underpass would be done in two phases—the west side first, then the east side—and would take about 16 weeks to complete.
The project would consist of replacing 180 metres of concrete from Third Street East to Fifth Street East, 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.

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