The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) is surging ahead with plans for the AR-1 North-South Interconnector.
At last night’s (Mar. 27) City Council Meeting, a Ministry delegation presented Phase II of the Quesnel Transportation Plan to City Council and around 20 people in the gallery.
The project is still in an early stage of infrastructure planning, said senior regional transportation planning engineer Kathryn Weicker.
“There are a number of steps that come after that,” she noted.
“We have been working on building a Highway 97 transportation plan [over the past few years], coming up with short-, medium- and long-term solutions.
“We are presenting an implementation plan to you today. As that plans come into play and projects come out of that plan, they will proceed through the subsequent stages – preliminary design, functional design and all the way to construction.”
The MOTI delegation recommended implementation of the North-South Interconnector, which would replace the Quesnel River Bridge and the railway bridge farther up river and travel around the North Quesnel neighbourhood out onto Two Mile Flat.
They explained that through the community engagement survey, which was available on their website from Feb. 7-21, they found that 84 per cent of respondents preferred the North-South Interconnector option. Just 16 per cent of respondents prefered the option to replace the two bridges and realign the highway via Legion Drive.
They also outlined how other options, including the North-South Industrial Connector (which would travel around Cariboo Pulp and cross the river to the North East of Two Mile Flat and travel north from there) and the East-West Connector (which proposed a route for vehicles travelling from the West to cross the Fraser River upstream and connect with Two Mile Flat) had been phased out in a previous stage of the study.
Despite having already been phased out, these options were mentioned in the survey and respondents were able to agree or disagree with the decision to remove these options from the evaluation process.
Fifty-seven per cent of resondents agreed that it was appropriate to phase out the North-South Industrial Connector, and again, 57 per cent agreed it was appropriate to phase out the East-West Connector.
“The statistics from that data shows us that we took a good approach and that the public is supportive of that approach,” said regional project manager Oliver Schwuchow.
The full Community Engagement Summary Report can be found at https://www.quesnelobserver.com/news/majority-of-moti-survey-respondents-in-favour-of-north-south-interconnector/.
The MOTI delegation also recommended going ahead with the Racing Road and Quesnel-Hydraulic Road access management and the Front Street three-lane configuration, both with a timeline of up to five years.
Longer-term plans from the study recommend Two Mile Flat access management and further South Quesnel access management, with a timeline of 15 to 25 years.
While recommendations have been made, project managers must still seek funding from the Ministry in order to implement the project.
”For the North-South Interconnector, we will be putting in a funding reqeust to develop a business case and undertake further preliminary engineering to get a better handle on costing and scope,” said Schwuchow.
He said the Front Street project is moving forward this year.
“We are currently in the detailed design [stage] and we are trying to get a tender out this spring and construction complete by 2018.”
Plans for the Racing Road access management are also underway, with project managers having put in a request for the next level of design, he noted.
Feedback from council
Quesnel City councillors were invited to comment and ask questions of the delegation following their presentation.
Councillor John Brisco asked whether the homes that may need to be bought up to make way for the Interconnector would be bought at a fair market value.
“They will be paid fair market value, and that’s the assessed value of the home before the Interconnector is in place,” explained Schwuchow.
Coun. Ron Paull had a question regarding the timeline.
“At what point in that zero to five-year time window would the affected home owners be given the word, yes or no, [whether the project is going ahead] so they can get on with their lives?” he asked.
“Is it not unusual for the affected home owners, and the community generally, to have a big question mark hanging over them for two years? Maybe even three?”
Schwuchow said it is difficult to give concrete answers with regard to the timeline.
“Over the next year we will be looking at getting the funding for the business case development and preliminary design. If we are successful with getting that funding, over that next year we will build that case, and federal funding applications, and work on getting that certainty.
“When those go forward to the politicians provincially and federally, we will have a better answer of whether we have determined funding for the project,” he said.
He acknowledged it could take one or two years before the project has a definitive green light.
“It could take a year to two years to get an answer on this based on the funding and the proposals that go forward.
“Throughout the process we will be engaging back to the community to let them know where we are at with the project,” he assured.