It’s settled, Prince Albert is getting a second bridge. But what isn’t settled is where, when or how.
On Wednesday, the Chamber of Commerce hosted an all-day conference on the issue called, “Building Bridges for Success.”
The keynote address was done by Murray Totland, City of Saskatoon city manager, speaking on his experience with P3s and city infrastructure.
The public and private partnership model has allowed the building of Saskatoon’s new Civic Operations Centre, currently under construction, along with their North Commuter Parkway Bridge Project.
“The analysis we did concluded that delivering each of these projects as a P3 would’ve been the best value for money our citizens so the decision to proceed was made on that basis,” Totland said.
While he said the model wouldn’t fit for every project, he went into the benefits it can have including cost certainty, set schedules, cost-savings and innovation.
Beyond that, the price paid in the long-term includes the operating and maintenance of the facility and not just the build.
“In the past we may have built a project, which was all fine and good, but then we maybe weren’t as good as we could’ve been at maintaining and rehabilitating it over the life of whatever the asset happens to be,” Totland said. “With the P3 model, that’s all built in so you’re paying as you go, shall I say, for all that maintenance, preservation and rehabilitation that’s needed.
“The value of the asset is maintained and preserved over the life of the agreement. So at the end of the agreement, 25 or 30 years down the road, that asset still has a lot of value in it so we like that aspect.”
When paying back the total cost of a $100 million bridge, Totland explained, instead of paying it up front, they could pay in installments of $10 million yearly.
“As a city, now I’m just making one payment every year for a number of years to pay back the private sector for both building it, and operating and maintaining it,” Totland said referring to the Civic Operations Centre.
With multiple experiences in the books, though still in moderate stages of development, Totland gave advice to the City of Prince Albert going forward. He said proper planning upfront on the P3 projects, which he referred to as “quite complex” is key.
He also said communication is crucial between the City, council, the business community, the media and of course, the public.
When planning, he said it’s important to understand risks, along with the outcome you want to achieve.
“Do your homework, communicate, educate, understand your risks and how the project would be financed,” Totland said in summation.
Overall, he said the model should be considered as an option for Prince Albert.
“I think the community is more at the beginning of that process,” he said. “I think they understand what they need to do from this point, and we’re willing to help Prince Albert anyway that we can with this.”
Gordon Sparks, who works as an engineering consultant, spoke on the numbers behind the need for the new build.
“Basically what we did is we looked at the facts, at the statistics of who’s using the bridge, where do they start their trip and where do they end their trip,” Sparks said.
They found, 26,000 vehicles a day cross the bridge daily, with 90-92 per cent being cars and small vehicles.
When it comes to origin, 74 per cent of drivers crossing start outside of Prince Albert.Because of this, reconstruction of the first bridge could bring major issues.
“So you’ve got huge queues and huge delays and that causes all sorts of problems, if there is emergencies, if someone needs to go to the hospital, or there’s a fire, and you’ve got those kinds of queues and back ups, how do you even get through if you’ve got that jam?”
According to Sparks, a second bridge would largely fill this void.
“If you’ve got some redundancy, ie: you have a second bridge, you can close one during rehabilitation, you’ve got an alternate route,” said Sparks. “If you don’t have an alternate route, you shut the economy down.”