Burrard Bridge fix pegged at $50m

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      A heritage advocate claims that widening the Burrard Bridge sidewalk will cost city taxpayers $50 million.

      Donald Luxton, president of Heritage Vancouver, told the Georgia Straight that "based on current construction costs alone", the project will triple its 2002 budgeted figure of around $14 million. He cited rising construction costs and hot commodities markets for pushing up [the] price with each passing month.

      "That [figure] is based on all other construction that has been going on in the city," Luxton said. "We also don't know what the current cost of inflation would really be–it could be quite a bit higher and would be dependent on many factors, including the rising costs of concrete and steel," he said, adding that the costs could go "even higher".

      City greenways and neighbourhood transportation engineer David Rawsthorne told the Straight in a phone interview that he did not know where Luxton got those numbers. "Part of the current assignment for our consulting team is to develop updated detailed cost estimates," Rawsthorne said. "That's something that we will be getting in the next couple of months as part of the design package."

      After regaining a majority on city council in November 2005, NPA councillors voted to abolish a trial, spearheaded by former COPE councillor Fred Bass, that would have removed two of the six lanes of bridge traffic and turned them over to cyclists and Rollerbladers. The $1 million six-month trial was to begin in April 2006 and if successful extended to 12 months, or else cancelled in favour of sidewalk widening.

      In December 2005, the NPA voted to proceed straight to the latter option in a 6–4 vote opposed by all Vision Vancouver councillors. COPE councillor David Cadman was absent from council chambers.

      Bass had estimated potential savings of $13 million by pursuing a trial. He said at the time that it was important to promote sustainable options, such as cycling, walking, and Rollerblading, ahead of automobile traffic entering the downtown core.

      Luxton said he is concerned the City will schedule open houses on the project's details without having a better handle on what the costs are to the taxpayer. "This council is now in a difficult position because of the NPA decision to cancel it [the trial]," he said.

      Rawsthorne said, "This is the best information that we've got right now, which is admittedly old," he said. "I am not trying to tell you that I believe that is a fair reflection of what it will be. There is the best cost estimate that our design team can come up with, working through every design issue and knowing what they are going to build. Then there is taking it out to the market and getting the contractors to bid on it, and that is really the final answer."

      In a phone interview, NPA councillor Suzanne Anton told the Straight the final bill "is likely to be more" than the 2002 estimate. She added that, if Luxton is right, the whole project will be reevaluated.

      "If the number is a reasonable number we will be proceeding, but if it is something extraordinary we will have to think about what we are going to do next," Anton said. "If it was a $50 million project, we don't have $50 million to begin with."

      Rawsthorne said city engineering staff have drawn up two options as part of the widening. One would take the proposed steel railings around the main towers, with a "new sidewalk structure" going around them. The other would leave the main towers alone and push all nonvehicular traffic through the existing 2.3-metre-wide opening at the pinchpoints.

      Rawsthorne said he expects the first open house to happen either at month's end or in September.