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Council receives update on potential future third vehicle bridge

Residents may recall they were asked a non-binding ballot question, during last October's Municipal Election, about if building a third vehicular traffic bridge in Lethbridge should become a municipal capital project priority.

On Tuesday, Lethbridge City Council voted unanimously to accept an Administration Submission on the Third Bridge River Crossing Review as information.

One of the review's primary points is that the longtime proposed potential location of Chinook Trail, which could connect University Drive West with Scenic Drive South, continues to be the preferred option.

Tuesday's review, which can be found in full here, was based on a Council request late last year to review a 2009 report to see if anything substantial had changed. This review was completed by Stantec on behalf of the City of Lethbridge.

Part of Tuesday's discussion at Council was the potential impact and implications to property taxes. Should an additional bridge be built, the average residential property taxpayer could face an increase of between 14.5 per cent and 22.1 per cent (based on a $200 million to $300 million cost estimate) for their municipal portion of the tax rate.

The tax implication for the potential Third River Crossing was part of a Council inquiry and Administrative response in January 2022. It can be found here.

Nine criteria were considered in the original 2009 City of Lethbridge Circulation Road Study evaluation: Community Assessment; Recreation Impact; Environmental Impact; Historical Resources Impact; Transportation Impact; Traffic Noise Impacts; Hydraulic Impacts; Geotechnical Impacts; and Fiscal Impacts.

Preliminary traffic volumes from the City's Travel Demand Model, being updated for the Transportation Master Plan (TMP) in 2023, suggest that a third vehicular river crossing may be needed sometime between 2030 and 2040. This timeline is tentative and will be updated by the TMP which will provide recommendations relating to the timing of the proposed third vehicular river crossing.

"The Chinook Trail alignment would provide an improved connection between residential areas in southwest Lethbridge and commercial areas in southeast Lethbridge," says Adam St. Amant, Transportation Engineer, who contributed to the review. "The proposed Chinook Trail alignment would also be the least costly of the options that include a bridge structure. However, all of the information found in the review would require more in-depth studies down the road before further steps would be taken."

"Council is very aware that the topic of a third motor vehicle bridge is always a major discussion point in the city," says Mayor Blaine Hyggen. "We acknowledge that 60 per cent of voters who responded yes to the non-binding ballot question at the 2021 Municipal Election may not have been fully aware of the potential costs and many other factors involved with a future project of this scope. On behalf of City Council, I would like to thank Administration and Stantec for compiling this review that can now be used to determine any further next steps. I'm looking forward to working with the Province regarding a potential path forward for an additional bridge."

Any requirements by the Provincial and Federal governments will be applicable regardless of the location of a future potential third vehicular river crossing.

A third vehicular traffic bridge along the Chinook Trail alignment in Lethbridge could have a capital cost of around $190 million (based on 2022 dollars). This estimated capital cost is based on the values provided in the 2009 Lethbridge Circulation Road Study and have been inflated to 2022 dollars using a historical average of the Bank of Canada Annual Average Rate of Inflation. A better estimate of cost will be determined once the Chinook Trail River Crossing Preliminary Design (scheduled for 2027, as per the 2022 to 2031 Capital Improvement Program project C-21)  is completed.

Some of the conclusions from Tuesday's report include:

  • There are some characteristics and processes that have emerged since the previous 2009 study that may have an influence on the preferred crossing location. Although some, such as the archeological and paleontological restrictions, will affirm Chinook Trail as the preferred crossing, there are some aspects of this study that will promote further debate over the alignments, such as sustained traffic congestion at the intersection of Scenic Drive and Mayor Magrath Drive
  • Overall, there is no strong evidence to suggest that the preferred Chinook Trail crossing should be abandoned in favour of the Popson Park alignment. In fact, the updated information suggests that Chinook Trail should continue to be the preferred third vehicular river crossing
  • The Chinook Trail crossing would attract a larger traffic volume than the Popson Park crossing. This coupled with the cost savings of $90 million would provide better value for dollars spent
  • Plans developed by various City departments have moved forward under direction from City Council that Chinook Trail will be the future crossing location, as per the 2009 study. Any deviation will result in extra dollars being spent on planning and engineering, as well as to infrastructure already in the ground in anticipation of the future alignment
  • Both alignments alleviate congestion on one part of the arterial network, while failing to alleviate pressure on another. Due to the nature of the reduced and limited locations for river crossings, this will stay true for any selected alignment
  • Upon reviewing the criteria and updating the parameters, there is no clear evidence that the City should amend the previous Council decision of preserving the Chinook Trail alignment as the future third motor vehicle river crossing
  • As development continues west of Oldman River, traffic volumes across the river will continue to grow. According to initial analyses using the newly created Lethbridge Travel Demand Model, even if the third motor vehicle bridge is constructed as a four-lane facility (two lanes in each direction) the Whoop-Up Drive bridge will still move at a slow speed in the ultimate condition
  • While the pace of population and employment growth in West Lethbridge, as well as the public level of acceptance for congestion will determine the best date to open the third motor vehicle bridge in its proposed location connecting Chinook Trail to Scenic Drive South, preliminary analysis suggests the best date for opening appears to be sometime between 2030 and 2040. By the ultimate buildout, a future third motor vehicle bridge is estimated to have volumes similar to Whoop-Up Drive today if travel behaviour continues to be similar to today's conditions


Background and Prior Decisions

  • The 1969 Urbanization of West Lethbridge plan identified the third motor vehicle river crossing extending from West Lethbridge and connecting to Scenic Drive South at the 24 Avenue South alignment
  • In November 2009, City Administration provided City Council a presentation with the results of the River Crossing Review. The following conclusions from the Review were presented:
  1. A significant change in travel behaviour will be required to avoid construction of a new crossing
  2. If current travel patterns continue, major congestion issues will occur at University Drive, 6 Avenue South and access points to Whoop-Up Drive, unless a new crossing is constructed
  3. Popson Park route does not help in relieving the congestion issues on 6 Avenue South
  4. Popson Park will require considerably higher investments than Chinook Trail
  5. The Popson Park route alignment is not compatible with the existing arterial road network in the southern part of West Lethbridge (connection with University Drive)
  6. Chinook Trail will attract more traffic than the Popson Park route due to its convenient location, shorter trip times and trip distance
  7. Chinook Trail provides better opportunities for alternative transportation (i.e. people walking and people riding bikes)
  • In November 2009, City Council approved a motion that Chinook Trail continue to be reserved as the future crossing location, including a future pedestrian commuter corridor and dedicated pedestrian crossing; and that future planning investigate means to delay or eliminate the need for a future river crossing
  • In January 2019, City Administration provided City Council a presentation on the results of the Whoop-Up Drive Interchanges Functional Planning Study. The following findings from the project report were presented:
  1. Short-term, medium-term and long-term plans were developed for each interchange
  2. Short-term improvements were recommended regardless of whether the third crossing is constructed
  3. Prior to medium-term upgrades, it would be prudent to confirm the timeline and feasibility of Chinook Trail River Crossing

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