After years of discussion, interim improvements to 208 Street through Willoughby are set to begin in 2019.
On June 25, Township council voted 8-1 to move forward with widening portions of the road over the next few years by endorsing the project sequencing. Coun. Kim Richter was opposed.
The new plan — which will have to be approved by the next council in future budgets — includes putting aside $1 million in the Township’s 2019 budget to do the design work for widening the east side of 208 Street from 68 Avenue to 76 Avenue, and a further $2.1 million for construction on 208 Street from 83 Avenue to 84 Avenue.
In 2020, $10.7 million is to be included in the budget for construction along 208 Street from 64 Avenue to 68 Avenue, and in 2021, $23 million for construction along the east side of 208 Street from 68 Avenue to 76 Avenue.
Staff estimate the total cost to be $83 million, with $37 million in construction costs and $46 million in land acquisition costs. This is up from the 2015 estimate of $47 million, a staff report states.
So far, the corridor has been widened piecemeal from two lanes to four lanes as new development is built, causing bottlenecks and congestion. To keep costs down, staff recommended this approach continue where possible, and that areas unlikely to be developed within the next few years be completed by the Township. Staff also plan to discuss with landowners the possibility of securing the land for the road as a right of way, instead of a road dedication.
Richter said those measures won’t be enough.
“I’m not sure with all of the complaints that come in about this road, (that) not having anything substantially done until 2021 is going to be acceptable to the public. Is there nothing else that we can do?” she asked.
Mark Bakken, Township CAO, said it comes down to the costs. If council chose to get further DCC (development cost charge) borrowing or general borrowing to pay for the road, the project could be accelerated.
“Our biggest challenge is that as part of the development program, we look for the roads to be provided on a without cost basis,” Bakken said.
“And even making the maximum assumptions we can do on this, where there are some sections where there’s no development potential, such as along the Willowbrook Connector, we will likely have to acquire those lands. The goal is to be as fiscally responsible as we can be in terms of land acquisition.”
“I guess what I’m finding puzzling is that we’ve got $1 million in 2019 to look at the Willoughby Connector up there, and then $10.7 million in the 2020 budget for that stretch,” Richter replied.
“I don’t think that’s the part of 208 Street that’s problematic for people. I think the part that’s problematic for people is north of 72nd. So, I can’t support this report right now because I think we are throwing money into the wrong solution. We should be focusing our attention on 208th north of 72nd right now.”
Coun. Petrina Arnason said she had similar concerns as Richter, and thought council should discuss the options “in a more fulsome way.”
She made a motion to defer the report to the next council after the election. That failed with only her and Richter in favour.
Coun. Angie Quaale said that endorsing the recommendations from staff would not hinder the next council.
“I’m going to support moving it forward because I think this shows some intention of this council to continue to make it a priority for future councils, but it still doesn’t fetter the decisions of future councils in their budget consideration,” she said.
“I think in the next few years, we’re going to have significant external pressures on our budgets, and I’m just not sure how we’re going to square all of these circles.”
Coun. Blair Whitmarsh agreed.
“It makes sense to me to make a strong statement as this council, not just wait for the next, but to make a strong statement that 208 Street is important and we believe this is a good process to move forward on,” he said.