Prince Albert is no “city of bridges”

Tyler Clarke
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The Diefenbaker bridge (and train bridge) remain Prince Albert's only North Saskathcewan River vehicle motor vehicle crossing. 

Prince Albert has nothing on Saskatoon when it comes to attracting bridge funding.


Earlier this week, the City of Saskatoon raked in a total of $116 million in federal and provincial government funding for two city bridges.

Meanwhile, the City of Prince Albert remains without funding for a second North Saskatchewan River crossing -- a whispered request made loud following the discovery of a crack on the Diefenbaker bridge in August of 2011.

Although he insisted that he’s in no position to give advice to another city, Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison took some time on Thursday to explain how they’ve found such success in attracting bridge funding.

“In less than eight years we have had 16 lanes of bridges put in, either constructed or going to be under construction very shortly,” he summarized.

“The first thing we always do is bring a cheque book with us, because if you think that the other levels of government are going to be giving the City of Saskatoon a bridge for free, you’re sadly mistaken. There’s no free lunch.”

Saskatoon city administration always looks at where the money is, he explained, noting that if they went where the money isn’t that’s exactly what they’ll get -- nothing.

For previous bridges, the City of Saskatoon looked at the gas tax and the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative for funding.

This time around, the federal government nudged the City of Saskatoon toward their P3 Canada Fund, from which they are receiving $66 million.

They’re receiving an additional $50 million from the provincial government, with the municipality funding the balance.

Pulling money from various areas, the City of Saskatoon intends on funding the two bridge’s construction without raising taxes.

“The reason the City of Saskatoon has a triple-A credit rating is, before we start our construction of all these different projects, regardless of what it is in the city of Saskatoon, we have a financial plan put in place,” Atchison said. “When you have a financial plan in place you’re able to move forward.”

The City of Saskatoon’s upcoming North Commuter Bridge is expected to handle about 40,000 vehicles per day at the city’s north end.

The other bridge is a replacement for the city’s 107-year-old traffic bridge, which connected Victoria Avenue with the city’s downtown, and has been closed since 2010.

Reflecting on Saskatoon’s bridge announcement, Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne has been left wondering about the province’s third-largest city.

“They’ve got, what, eight MLAs and cabinet ministers -- totally different than us,” Dionne summarized.

In less than eight years we have had 16 lanes of bridges put in, either constructed or going to be under construction very shortly. Don Atchison

Although the North Commuter Bridge has been on Saskatoon’s radar for a while, the addition of a new bridge to replace the 107-year-old steel bridge is perplexing, Dionne said.

“It’s been closed so long people are using alternate routes. To me, it’s proven that it’s not necessary, but they must have another report that says it is necessary.”

Although Dionne said that he used the steel bridge frequently when he lived in Saskatoon, it’s not an integral piece of infrastructure.

“Once it was closed, I used alternate routes,” he said. “You look to your left, you had the choice to go to the Broadway bridge. You look to the right; you had the choice to go to the Idylwyld bridge.

“If I had a slingshot I could have hit either one of them with a good rock … I don’t understand that.”

With three area bridges expected to close in the coming years due to repairs, Atchison noted that the city needed “another release valve,” necessitating the steel bridge’s replacement.

Although Saskatoon found success with P3s, Dionne said that he’s not necessarily singing the funding model’s praises quite yet.

“I’ve heard P3s are expensive,” he summarized. “They’re not under your control -- you pay forever.”

The city has enough infrastructure demands as-is, Dionne said, noting that under the current funding model the city is poised to fund 20 per cent of whatever new or renovated Victoria Hospital project consultants decide the area needs.

“It’s not off our radar,” he said. “We strongly believe that we need another bridge and we’re going to continue to work on it, but at this point we’re not going to be pushed into a P3.”

A toll booth at both the new and existing bridge might be an option worth looking into, Dionne said.

On Thursday, city council was in its second of two days of strategic planning, which Dionne said included a healthy discussion about the city’s bridge situation.

In Saskatoon, Atchison said that the provincial, federal and municipal governments’ investment into the city’s infrastructure will make it “more likely that business will locate in our community.

“We’re grateful that the federal and provincial government saw fit to see this as a good project,” he said. “It’s going to improve the quality of life for our citizens and community.”

Organizations: Prince Albert, Asia-Pacific Gateway, P3 Canada Fund Victoria Hospital

Geographic location: Saskatoon, Prince Albert, North Saskatchewan River Victoria Avenue Broadway

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Recent comments

  • Bill
    June 13, 2014 - 01:26

    This is a perfect example of why Mayor Dionne is simply not good at his job. No creativity, no imagination. Instead of finding solutions he offers excuses. Instead of looking to the private sector and to other funding models, he taxes the people. Just wonderful.

    • Dougie
      June 17, 2014 - 14:52

      Right you are Bill. Right you are. PA needs another bridge but more importantly we need some quality leadership that can actually help to grow our city rather than our list of excuses as to why we're not flourishing.