A week after the release of a bridge report stating that Prince Albert doesn’t need a second bridge, the Daily Herald was able to catch up with Prince Albert’s two MLAs.
Contacted by phone on Thursday, the following is a full transcription of the interviews with both Prince Albert Northcote MLA Victoria Jurgens and Prince Albert Carlton MLA Darryl Hickie.
The only edits made are indicted with the use of brackets, though for the most part, the transcript appears as recorded.
Prince Albert Northcote MLA Victoria Jurgens
Tyler Clarke: What’s your initial response to the findings (of the bridge report)?
Victoria Jurgens: What the report indicates is that at current time, there is no need for a second bridge and the capacity of the bridge with appropriate maintenance will serve Prince Albert and area for a good quarter century.
TC: But do you think, I mean, having followed the news right here in Prince Albert, do you agree that second bridge isn’t necessary, though?
VJ: Well, what we look at, Tyler, is the report and the results of a very in-depth study done by the professionals, which was agreed to by the steering committee made up of the city, ministry of highways and the two RMs -- the RM of Buckland, the RM of Prince Albert. That study indicates that with appropriate maintenance and continued maintenance, and looking at all of the current growth and projected growth, that the capacity of the Diefenbaker bridge is sufficient to meet the needs for the next quarter century.
TC: The city has been very clear that they’re not satisfied with the study. Um, I guess you’re not in the same boat, though, from the sounds of it. Do you agree with the study?
VJ: The study is very clear, very in-depth, and what the study says that at this time we do not need to build a second bridge. The study also says that looking at the current and anticipated growth, that there is no need. Now, there is growth all over the province, and the government and the ministry will continue to monitor that growth to see if there are any changes in the growth pattern that would indicate anything else needs to be done.
TC: As an MLA for Prince Albert, in caucus and that kind of stuff, are you still advocating for a second bridge or have you dropped the issue at this point?
VJ: Well, we, as part of caucus, we will always take all the wishes of the constituents and I continue to consult with my constituents. We will always work with the city to bring any of those issues forward to the ministers and the premier just as we’ve done in the past. So, that’s what I commit to continue to do, to look at all of the issues and bring them forward just as they’ve always done.
TC: And do you think the second bridge is one of these issues?
VJ: The constituents have indicated that a second bridge is what is wanted. The study shows that looking at all aspects in very great depth shows that the second bridge is not needed at this time, and with maintenance and continued maintenance that the structural components of the bridge will continue for the primary weight.
TC: The community and …. Well, a large part of the community, and city hall is disappointed in the findings of the report. I guess, what’s your response to them, who in turn disagree with the report, saying that with ongoing maintenance and so forth, the bridge … there will be further delays for Prince Albert’s only bridge. Because, I think we can anticipate $7 million in the next bit that needs to be done. What’s your response to people disappointed in the findings of the report?
VJ: Well, what we’ve done, is, the city, the ministry of highways, the two RMs, commissioned the study to determine what the current needs are of the city in terms of a second crossing, what this bridge can hold and we will continue to monitor the capacity of that bridge, just like this study did, was looked at it in support of the last two studies that indicated that the capacity is adequate at the current time. We will look forward to continuing to work with the city in the future, just as we have in the past.
(Omission of repeated question because phone static prevented Jurgens from hearing it)
TC: Why did it take yourself a week to respond to the media after the initial bridge report was released?
VJ: Well, basically, the minister of highways and infrastructure, along with the city, commissioned the report, and the minister replied to it.
TC: I made a request about a week ago, and I know some other media has expressed difficulty in contacting yourself and Mr. Hickie about this issue. I guess, just, local citizens were curious about local MLA response, so why the delay?
VJ: As you well know, we are talking to you right now to indicate what the study results are. The ministry and the city that had commissioned the report – the minister replied to it, and we’re pointing out that the results of the study … just, that the results of the study are to continue to work together, and we’re going to continue to work together.
TC: Do you have any more responses to the report or anything else you’d like to say to the electorate?
VJ: At this point, Tyler, I’d be repeating everything that the report already said, and we will continue to monitor the capacity of the bridge and look forward to working with the city, just as we did in the past, working with them in the future.
Prince Albert Carlton MLA Darryl Hickie
TC: I guess I’ll just ask the same questions I did with Ms. Jurgens earlier this morning, just what’s your response to this bridge report?
Darryl Hickie: Well, you know, it was commissioned by a steering committee involving the city, the province and the RMs, and a group of experts were put together, and consultations took place and the result is the report that talks about various things, and it’s one of those kind of documents that you look to as a government to shape the future for any infrastructure needs.
TC: And are you -- I know that city hall is certainly disappointed … are you disappointed in the findings, or are you kind of backing up these findings at this point, in caucus and stuff, or what’s your take on the findings themselves?
DH: Well, pre-campaign and during the election campaign, I was very strong in that a second bridge for Prince Albert would be driven by economic development and growth, and the report talks about current capacity at the bridge not being met, yet. I would just say that the report gives us a framework as a government moving forward, and the city and region to see economic development and growth, as I said before, drive the need for a second bridge, and that’s where it is right now.
The study is very clear, very in-depth, and what the study says that at this time we do not need to build a second bridge. The study also says that looking at the current and anticipated growth, that there is no need. Now, there is growth all over the province, and the government and the ministry will continue to monitor that growth to see if there are any changes in the growth pattern that would indicate anything else needs to be done. - Victoria Jurgens
TC: I guess, an argument for the bridge currently is that the Diefenbaker, obviously, needs more work, which will tie up the sole road linking Prince Albert with the north. So, you know, you expect further delays in the coming years. I guess, um, I guess, in caucus and places like that, are you still advocating for a second bridge, or are you waiting until the population base dictates that one is needed, as the report clarifies?
DH: You’re correct, the report does shape our focus as a government moving forward. It does indicate, of course, there is need for additional money for maintenance and repairs going into the future. I will be advocating that we help to cover those repairs. The City of Prince Albert and the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure will work together, as well, as those needs arise, to negotiate the outcome of that, but as an MLA for Prince Albert Carlton, I look to the report as not one that was done lightly. It was an extensive report with extensive consultations with partners communicating on an ongoing basis. It was researched, and it supports previous reports, as well, when we look at the past numbers, especially. As long as the bridge is maintained, it has a lot of lifetime ahead of it. And, it’s one of those reports that we look to as a foundation in our planning for the future.
TC: OK. I guess, the city, as you must have reading the Herald, the city -- Mayor Dionne, specifically -- isn’t happy. What’s your response for people not happy with the report?
DH: Well, personally, the comments haven’t really come in that it’s been negative. People understand that there are, it’s a very costly venture, and moving forward the capacity of the bridge, if it was exceeding at this time this number, then there would be a much bigger reason for a second bridge. Right now, though, with the current maintenance agreement in place and the fact that the lifespan of the bridge is many years into the future, it’s not necessary to have a second bridge right now in Prince Albert. We need to focus on the maintenance of this current bridge, moving forward, so we maintain the traffic flows, as we see now with all four lanes open. So, as the minister said before, the inspections and the work done as a joint venture moving forward with the city are imperative to make sure we do the right things at the right.
TC: OK, well, that’s well said. Um. I guess, some constituents, including Mayor Dionne, may still want the second bridge. Are you still advocating for it in caucus?
DH: If the capacity is exceeded on this current bridge? Absolutely, absolutely, but with the current expert advice that we’ve received as a government, I will be just making sure that the ongoing maintenance of this bridge is looked at moving forward, so that’s my primary focus with the bridge right now.
TC: OK. And, um, OK, I guess that’s the questions I had for you. Is there anything else you’d like to clarify at this point?
(Omission of the beginning of Hickie’s response due to repetition of incorrect information allegedly reported by other media organizations)
DH: I’ve always said, as I indicated in the first part of the interview, Tyler, that the second bridge for Prince Albert will be driven by economic growth and development, and if this report had told us that the capacity of the bridge was exceeded, then it would have been, yes, move forward with as second bridge. As we saw, it’s underutilized by a substantial degree, and that does shape the future for us to work with the city and the region to see economic development and growth to the area. As in the past, we will in the future, work with the city to see those, hopefully see those targets met, where we see region prosper from the same growth that we’re seeing across the entire province.
(Omission of some discussion due to due to repetition of incorrect information allegedly reported by other media organizations)
DH: We’ve always said that it’s money that will be spent when necessary, but it’s driven by the process of economic growth and development. It’s not just for an election grab to try to win a seat, so we’re prudent with taxpayer dollars, and we need to ensure that the dollars are spent in the most efficient and best time when the need is arising, and right now, the report indicates, again, that the capacity issues haven’t been met, but the ongoing maintenance is where I’m going to be focusing my attention.
TC: Oh, speaking of which, that Urban (Highway) Connectors (Program) that you’d mentioned before (during a past interview) requiring some fine-tuning, I guess, that’s one of your goals, too, isn’t it? Getting that more clearly defined, right?
DH: Absolutely. We know that the initial document talked about this current maintenance being $4.2 million, but as the minister stated, there are certain portions of the Urban Highway Connector Program that have to be still discussed with the stakeholders. In this case, with the ongoing maintenance, how is it that the city can identify its need and apply for the funding. If the government has the Highways and Infrastructure minister at the table, it makes it easier towards those goals, so those are the kinds of things that we need to iron out as we move forward with the Urban Highway Connector Program.
TC: As you said before, one of your goals going forth will be to make sure that the bridge gets the repairs that it needs – the current bridge.
DH: The current bridge needs to maintained in such a fashion that it can still be utilized by the traffic con the north and south directions, for sure. I’m just not sure of the amount of work that the city is claiming needs to be done. The report does talk about some of that. But, again, those are all issues moving forward. Right now, we’re very happy to have paid for the repairs at this time, and we have all four lanes open and the safety of the users is there. We took that into consideration, and right now we just have to make sure we keep that bridge open to four lanes for as long as we can.