Council Decides on Niska's Future
Last night council made a decision on the future of Niska Road and bridge and many Ward 6 residents were disappointed, and/or furious. The short summary: Niska Road will be reconstructed to modern standards and the current single-lane Bailey bridge will be replaced with a two-lane bridge.
For over a year, the fate of Niska has been forefront in Ward 6 – at least on the west side of the ward. It's not an exaggeration to say I've received hundreds of emails about Niska, most of them encouraging council to keep the one-lane status of the bridge. During that time I was continuously pressed to make up my mind and take a stance on what Niska should look like – a one lane bridge, two lane bridge, or closed bridge – even before the Environmental Assessment was complete.
That is something I refused to do, and said so repeatedly. Until I received the staff report and recommendation from the EA, and until I heard from delegations to council, I could not make an informed decision about the bridge. It would be irresponsible to and disrespectful to make a decision without hearing from staff and delegates. Making evidence-based decisions requires facts.
The recommendations from the EA clarified the options for council to consider. Based on the professional recommendation from the city's chief engineer, and backed up with legal advice from the city's solicitor regarding liability (some of which was given in a closed meeting for security reason), the one-lane option for Niska was removed from possible consideration. Council has fiduciary duties of care for the entire city and ignoring engineering, planning, and legal advice to replace Niska bridge with another one-lane bridge would demonstrate gross negligence; I believe such a decision would render us unfit to govern.
Subsequently, council was faced with a decision between two options: close the Niska bridge to vehicle traffic completely or replace the Bailey bridge with a new two-lane bridge. After examining the situation intensely during that final week and giving consideration to the numerous delegates and emails, I concluded that closing the bridge would be mostly undesirable and create more problems that it purported to solve. Niska Road is a functioning, well-used collector road that connects the south of Guelph to the west. I do not believe there are compelling planning or environmental reasons to completely close this route and, after a six-hour meeting, voted YES to the two-lane bridge and road reconstruction in a 9-4 majority vote.
My main concern with the Niska area wasn't the width of the bridge but rather the amount of unwanted semi-truck traffic that uses the road as a shortcut, despite being officially designated as a "no trucks" route. Unfortunately, the proposed new bridge design staff presented did not address my concerns and did not present any physical barriers to larger vehicles. I tabled the following motion to tackle this problem, which was accepted unanimously by council:
That staff develops a public consultation process for use during the detailed design phase of the Niska Bridge that includes elements to address truck traffic and vehicle speeds.
I believe that additional public consultation with nearby residents can help pinpoint some of their concerns with the approved two-lane bridge concept and am pleased that staff will welcome additional discussions. Here's what I wrote in an earlier blog post about possible design considerations:
The images below are of the Cedar Crossing wood-covered bridge in Multnomah County outside Portland, Oregon. Should council decide to proceed with the staff-recommended two-lane bridge option to replace the current one-lane Bailey bridge, I would be interested in staff exploring the feasibility of a similar design. I believe a wood-covered bridge would not only fit beautifully into the surrounding natural landscape but would also serve as an absolute physical barrier to large vehicle traffic, which is identified as a current and future problem.
Thank you to all the Ward 6 residents with their patience and understanding during this difficult time. I fully understand and respect that my vote may have disappointed you or even caused you to become disillusioned in council's decision-making process. If council didn't listen to my voice, or the voice of the community, why should I speak out next time? I hope you will understand that I have done extensive research into this matter and consulted with many, many residents. And in the end, I voted what I believe is in the best interests of city of Guelph residents. Not agreeing with you is quite different from not listening to you ... so please continue to engage issues that are important to your community because it really does make a significant difference.
I believe council made the correct decision, as difficult as it was. From here, I look forward to what comes from further community consultation about the bridge's design because I think something really wonderful can come from this that will benefit the city for generations to come.p