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Sudbury presses pause on green walkway project

Estimated $8.5-million construction cost is too much, council says.
While approving plans to renovate the Riverside Drive underpass, Greater Sudbury city council sent the rest of the proposed Elgin Greenway back to the drawing board on May 8. (File photo)

Sudbury city council is reconsidering the Elgin Greenway, a downtown greening project, after a report attached an $8.5-million pricetag to the venture.

The cost of the project soared from an original estimate of $3.7 million in 2013 to $8.5 million today.

The city has already set aside $1 million for the Greenway, while the federal and provincial governments have been asked to contribute $1 million each. Another $300,000 is coming from the Greater Sudbury Development Corp. and the Downtown BIA.

The project would create a walking trail from downtown to the city’s Bell Park via the Nelson Street bridge, linking with existing trails all the way to Laurentian University in the city’s south end.

Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan was flatly opposed to the plan, and didn't even want council to accept the report, let alone vote on proceeding any further with it.

“It's the wrong time,” Kirwan said during a May 8 council meeting. “I don't think the public is ready to look at an $8.5-million expenditure when we're trying to keep taxes down.

“It may be a good project (but) we have other priorities we should be looking at.”

But Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh, who admitted her eyes bulged when she saw the updated cost estimate, said staff should be directed to look at ways to get costs down, and focus on the Nelson Street bridge aspect of it, which will “unlock” access for people who want to walk the whole route.

“All of us had an 'oh my' moment when we saw the price tag come in,” McIntosh said. “But that (Nelson bridge) section of the Greenway could be a standalone piece that would bear fruit for us.”

Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Laundry-Altmann wondered why such a large contingency fund was set aside – almost 20 per cent of the entire cost.

Jason Ferrigan, the city's director of planning, said doing work downtown is a bit like renovating an old home – you should be prepared for unexpected surprises and costs.

“This is an urban renovation project,” Ferrigan said. “We do expect to encounter unexpected situations.”

He said staff wanted to be upfront about that now, rather than having to come back later and ask for more money.

Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier urged his colleagues not to ditch the entire project just because they have collective sticker shock.

He believes the project can be salvaged if they get costs down and find ways to raise more of the money.

“Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater here,” Cormier said, adding that his phone “lit up like a Christmas tree” after the cost of the project hit the media.

“And it's a fair reaction ... We're saying, let's tap the brakes a bit.”

Other than the Riverside work, councillors weren't voting to spend any money, he said. Instead, they're asking staff to come back with a thought-out, detailed proposal that's a lot less costly.

In the end, councillors voted to move ahead with tunnel repairs and have staff come back with a pared down proposal at the June 13 meeting.