The 10th Avenue crossing has been a source of debate ever since Port Alberni and Alberni were combined to form the current city of Port Alberni. Two referendums have already been carried out, with a third non-binding public opinion question on a $14.6 million crossing due to be on the local election ballot on Saturday, Nov. 15.
However, a retired engineer is proposing another option that could be less expensive.
Jim Rhodes, a retired road and logging engineer, has an idea for a crossing that would cost less than half of the current proposal. In fact, he believes that over the long term it would even save residents money.
According to Rhodes, the cost saving would come from the length of his proposed route. By his calculations, his route would be 0.7 km shorter in each direction or 1.4 km shorter for the round trip. Based on what Rhodes said was an average car allowance of 55 cents per kilometre, the 1.4 km shorter round trip would save 77 cents per trip. If someone makes 100 trips per year—that’s one trip every three to four days—they would save $77 per year in fuel costs.
While Rhodes was unwilling to provide an exact cost pending more precise calculations, he said that it would “be less than half” the cost of the current $14.6 million proposal and inexpensive enough to be more than covered by the $77 per year fuel savings.
At such a low cost, Rhodes’ proposal is in stark contrast to the current proposal.
At $14.6 million, the current proposed 10th Avenue crossing would increase property taxes for all homeowners in the city by $150 for 25 years. The figure is based on calculations completed by Alan Galambos, project manager of the Redford Extension culvert replacement over Roger Creek. Those calculations were provided to the city free of charge although an approximately $40,000 feasibility study would need to be completed for a more accurate cost.
The $14.6 million cost is for both the bridge itself and the approaches on both sides. As the proposed route would intersect with Johnston Road on the north side, a fully signaled intersection would be required.
The reason it’s so much more expensive is that it’s a high level crossing, which has it going straight across without dipping down.
Rhodes’ proposed route is a low level crossing, which while less expensive, necessitates a steeper eight per cent grade, something that concerns city engineer Guy Cicon.
“If it’s down a steep hill for 800 metres and up a steep hill for 800 metres, that’s a bit of a chore” for cyclists and pedestrians, he said.
However, Rhodes doesn’t believe that that sort of grade would cause any issues, pointing out that Port Alberni already has steeper hills than the one his route would have.
“Eight per cent’s not that bad on a bike,” Rhodes said but added that if the proposed eight per cent grade becomes an issue, he is getting a different route profile drawn up that would have a shallower grade by using more fill material.
Rhodes’ route would start at about the intersection of Alderwood Drive and 10th Avenue on the south side of the crossing and end at the end of Cherry Creek Road on the north side.
On the south side, the route would require a road to be built along the very edge of the exhibition grounds (behind Glenwood Center) and the Roger Creek ravine. Rhodes has said that the road would not disrupt the fairgrounds.
The route then goes east through the ravine before crossing Roger Creek and turning north to connect with Cherry Creek Road. The bridge itself would be a 30-metre, two lane bridge and wide enough to include both pedestrian and cycling lanes.
Currently, Rhodes’ plan has the bridge about four metres high, but that could be raised to six or seven metres in order to ensure that a flood would not wash out the bridge.
Shale fill, likely from the ravine itself, would be used to level out the route to the eight per cent grade.
Other than cost saving there are also other benefits to Rhodes’ proposal.
Mayor John Douglas, who has walked the proposed route, believes that building a road through the ravine would allow for better trail development and even a park or campground.
Rhodes believes Roger Creek “could be a really great producer of salmon” if the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had the ability to properly access the creek, something that a low level crossing would allow them to do.
(The Department of Fisheries and Oceans could not be reached for comment by the News’ press time.)
A midtown 10th Avenue crossing would also shorten emergency response time to the north side of town. Currently, the Port Alberni Fire Department, the R.C.M.P. detachment, West Coast General Hospital and the ambulance dispatch station are all on the south side. To get to the north side, they must either take Maebelle Road on the east side of town or Third Avenue/Stamp/Gertrude Street on the west. The latter crossing also has another issue; its location in the flats close by the Somass River. Were the lower sections of the city to flood, Maebelle Road would become the only connection between north and south, both for residents and emergency vehicles.
Cicon doesn’t believe that the city needs another crossing, saying that when the proposed $14.6 million crossing first came up, the city’s population was larger than it currently is and with no growth projected in the near future, he doesn’t see a 10th Avenue crossing as a wise investment of city funds that are already strained by a small tax base.
Should the city grow in area and population in the future, Cicon thinks that a 21st Avenue crossing— between 21st Avenue and Broughton Street and first proposed many years ago when the city looked to expand—might be more in line with transportation demands at that time.
“It’d be hard to justify any bridge location, whether it’s 21st Avenue or 10th Avenue,” he said, adding that it’s difficult to foresee what the city may need in the future.
“Say you do 10th Avenue and the city grows, are people going to want another crossing [further east]?”
Douglas is cautiously optimistic about the prospect.
“It seems to me that (Rhodes) has a viable idea for the future, that we could try to have a low cost access road in and out of the [Roger Creek] ravine that we could work on over a period of time,” said Douglas, adding that the $14.6 million crossing is “not something I believe that we should be spending our tax dollars on.”
However, Douglas said that he will wait on Rhodes’ presentation to city council on Tuesday, Oct. 14 before making his choice on whether to support the initiative.