Agenda, Regional Council December 14
Agenda, Budget Committee December 14
Council’s Budget Committee met to go over the draft capital budget for 2022. The capital budget is always a big event. It’s our first look at potential projects for the upcoming year. Last year was a very, very busy year in District 5. Busier than any I can remember. So, it’s not surprising that it’s going to be a lot quieter in 2022. There will be some new work in District 5, but it’s a year that’s more dominated by carryover projects that ran into delays or involved more work than could be accomplished in a single year. Here’s the District 5 projects:
- Sawmill River Phase 2 (Dundas Street Bridge)
- New playground at Newcastle Street Park (across from Maplehurst Apartments below Pleasant Street)
- Phase 2 of traffic calming on Hawthorne Street and Elliot Street
- Shade structure for the beach at Albro Lake (jointly funded by District 5 and District 6 capital funds)
- Old Ferry Road – Parker Street trail
- Street recapitalization (sidewalks and road surface) on Lyngby, Joffre, and Pinehill
- Sidewalk renewal on Milverton
- Crosswalk upgrade Albro Lake Road at Leaman Drive
- Findlay Community Centre upgrades
- Silver’s Hill Park (underway)
- Birch Cove Park (underway)
- Grahams Grove Building and parking lot paving (tender exceeded budget, revised approval as part of 2022 budget)
- Northbrook Park pathways and lighting (tender exceeded budget, revised approval as part of 2022 budget)
- Penhorn Lake trail (delayed to prepare tender documents and finalizing licensing agreement with HRM)
- Dartmouth Splash Pad (tender exceeded budget, revised approval secured and project awarded, but approval came too late to start construction in 2021)
- Alderney Lobby renovation (underway)
- Flower Streets Complete Streets (underway)
- Renfrew Street paving (home stretch, speed bumps delayed till the spring)
Of the new items, by far the most significant is the next phase of the Sawmill River project. What’s coming in 2022 is the Dundas Street extension. The plan is to extend Dundas Street to create a new intersection with Alderney Drive and then continue the street on into Dartmouth Cove. When complete, Dundas Street will become the primary street entrance into Dartmouth Cove, allowing HRM to eventually close Canal Street and Mill Lane to vehicles at Portland and Alderney. The project includes new public space along the river and the long-awaited multi-use trail connection from Sullivan’s Pond to the Harbour.
The Dundas Street connection will facilitate redevelopment in Dartmouth Cove, and as a result, HRM is expecting to be able to recoup 50% of the cost through capital cost contributions on new development. HRM is planning to complete the Dundas portion of the project in 2022, which will then allow the new bridge and road to be the detour route for when it comes time to dig up the Portland/Alderney/Prince Albert intersection. Construction for Portland/Alderney/Prince Albert is tentatively planned for 2023, meaning design work will begin this year.
This is a major piece of city building that I have been championing since before I was even on Council. Very excited to see the next phase is about to get underway.
The other new project that I wanted to spend a few moments on is the trail connection from Old Ferry Road to Parker Street. For anyone who has travelled the Harbour Trail, you’re no doubt familiar with this one remaining gap between Downtown Dartmouth and Woodside. Most people use the parking lot for Killam’s apartment building on Parker Street as if it was part of the trail, but it’s not an official link.
HRM has been planning to make the connection from Old Ferry to Parker for several years now, but it has been a complex real estate situation to untangle. Killam owns part of the needed property, while the rest is owned by CN, but was leased to Develop Nova Scotia (lease was inherited by Develop when they acquired the old Coast Guard Base). Getting permission and sorting out who will be responsible for rebuilding the failing retaining wall has taken a long-time. HRM and CN are close to an agreement and so this project has been put in the capital plan in anticipation of that real estate deal coming to fruition. I’m hopeful that this will happen, but there is some risk here given that the project depends on securing property rights from CN. It’s close, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if this project ends up delayed until 2023. We’ll have to wait and see.
The way HRM’s budget is crafted is staff present a default budget by department, and then Council begins the process of modifying the budget by moving requests for more information. Most of these requests are options to spend more money on projects or other priorities, but they can also include cuts. After hearing from every department, Council goes through the list of extras to decide on what’s in and what’s out and how the various items will be paid for.
Given how the capital budget touches on so many services that HRM provides to residents, it wasn’t surprising that there were a few requests for staff to take away. Council requested information on:
- Speeding up the timeline for the new fire station and fire headquarters in Bedford
- Increasing the crosswalk upgrade program
- Building more sidewalks
- A possible project to address flooding and other issues on Hammonds Plain Road
- Selective demolition of the former Eastern Shore Consolidated School
Of the extra items, I moved the request to look at crosswalk upgrades. Over this past year, HRM staff have been assessing all of the municipality’s basic crosswalks (crosswalks with a sign and paint, but no lights). The goal of the work was to identify crosswalks for future upgrades. Staff have identified 68 locations for upgrades and another 38 that they wish to gather additional data on before reaching a conclusion. With the current budget, it would take several years to complete all of the recommended work. My request was to get a dollar figure on doing them all at once this year rather than waiting. Staff will return with information on whether that’s possible and the cost.
Still with pedestrian safety, Council also asked for more information on what tripling the sidewalk budget to $7.5 million would mean. The sidewalk budget has basically been flat for many years, even though the cost of building new sidewalks has grown. As a result, a single large sidewalk project can easily consume a third of the entire budget. This isn’t an area that HRM has been making significant investment in and as a result the sidewalk request list keeps getting longer and longer. Sidewalks are, unfortunately, not cheap, and the unease with the proposed 5.9% tax bill will make adding new big value item like $7.5 million in sidewalks challenging. I think there is value though in looking at it. This is an area where we should be doing more.
Council approved, in principle anyway, a revised Traffic Calming Administrative Order. The key challenge with traffic calming is we have 50-60 years worth of streets that were built with one goal: move vehicles as fast as possible and with minimal delay. There wasn’t much thought given to pedestrians, cyclists, or transit. It’s impossible to fix decades of that built infrastructure all at once, meaning that there needs to be some objective way to prioritize which streets get traffic calming and which ones have to wait.
To try and make evidence-based decisions, streets are scored according to a number of criteria, the most important of which is the 85th percentile speed (speed that 85% of traffic is travelling at or below). A street’s score determines where it lands on the traffic calming list. This has generally meant that streets with the highest speeds are at the top of the list. You can view the list (current as of December 2021) online here.
It has been five years since the traffic calming scoring criteria was last looked at and staff’s review produced a number of recommended changes including:
- Add a 95th percentile speed category to capture excessive speeders in the evaluation
- Restore the eligibility threshold outside of school zones to an 85th percentile speed of 45 km/hr rather than 40 km/hr
- Provide additional points for streets that are more likely to have vulnerable road users
- Provide additional points for streets where there is a history of past collisions to better connect the traffic calming program with road safety objectives
- A socio-economic score to provide increased priority for lower-income areas where there are likely to be fewer traffic calming requests and where car ownership is likely to be less
- Update scoring for traffic volumes
Staff also recommended that traffic calming be organized more often on a neighbourhood basis rather than by individual street. Goal is to avoid diverting traffic within a neighbourhood rather than slowing it down overall. Council accepted all of the recommendations, except one, the move to increase the threshold for qualifying from 40 km/hr to 45 km/hr.
The reason that staff were recommending increasing the threshold to 45 km/hr is because speed reductions have had limited effect on streets with under 45 km/hr percentile speeds and because the 40 km/hr threshold has diverted resources from higher priority streets. The diversion of resources with a low threshold happens because streets get traffic calming not only by getting to the top of the priority list, but also through opportunities to carry out work alongside regular paving projects. Integrating with paving means that there have been opportunities for low-priority streets on the list to skip to the top. Given that the program’s resources aren’t infinite, that has meant HRM has been implementing calming on some low priority streets at the expense of higher priority ones.
Carrying out calming on streets that are well down the list might be justifiable if there were big savings in combing with paving projects, but staff have found that the savings aren’t significant. HRM saves some money on mobilizing costs by integrating calming with paving, but the savings aren’t all that significant in terms of labour and materials. By increasing the cutoff point to 45 km/hr, staff feel that there would be a better balance between taking advantage of paving opportunities and focussing traffic calming where it’s most needed. A higher cutoff would eliminate the current situation where a street with 41 km/hr could get calming before a street with speeds of 55 km/hr.
Council had a long discussion on this. We mostly agreed that we didn’t want to increase the qualifying threshold to 45 km/hr because, on principle, most of us feel that 40 km/hr is what we should be aiming for on residential streets. Moving the threshold to 45 km/hr might make practical sense given the length of the list and the prioritization that needs to happen, but it sends the wrong message of 45 km/hr being the preferred speed. Councillor Cleary moved that we maintain the 40 km/hr threshold and most of Council agreed. Cleary’s motion passed 13-3.
I supported Cleary’s motion, but also moved to defer the main motion to get staff to respond to the idea of introducing a clause to restrict paving integration opportunities to streets with an 85th percentile speed of 45 km/hr. My thinking is that this would address staff’s concern of spending resources on low-priority streets without having to throw low-priority streets off the list entirely. A street with under 45 km/hr speeds could still get traffic calming, but that would only happen if there are no higher priority streets on the list. Traffic calming for the slowest streets would only come through working through the list, not by skipping the line through a paving project. Not all of my colleagues were supportive of eliminating integration projects on lower-priority streets, but Council agreed to defer to get a report 10-6. The traffic calming administrative order will return to Council in a few months and once approved, HRM staff will begin to recalculate the existing list. The recalculated street rankings will come into effect in 2023.
- Approved registering 1262 Bedford Highway
- Amended the Bedford West Plan to allow for new development off Kearney Lake Road
- Amended the plan for West Chezzetcook to allow Souls Harbour to convert an existing building into a shelter for women and children
- Finalized bylaw changes to increase professional credential requirements for assessments of heritage buildings
- Increased budget for snow and ice control at bus terminals
- Deferred commercial taxation discussion until the New Year to give the Business Improvement Districts time to respond to the latest proposal
- Deferred discussion of the Regional Plan Review’s “What we Heard” report until the New Year to give the public and Council a chance to review it
- Initiated the district boundary review (mandated review every 8 years)
- Initiated planning for the West End Mall Future Growth Node
- Awarded a tender for two new fire trucks
- Delegated authority for exercising contract options for snow removal to the Director of Public Works
- Revised the Design Review Committee’s (Downtown Halifax) terms of reference
- First reading to amend the bonus zoning provisions for heritage buildings in Downtown Halifax
- Finalized changes to the User Fee Bylaw to allow non-profits and event organizers to bulk buy transit tickets