Toll bridge debate on hold while City waits for provincial feedback

Diefenbaker Bridge. -- Herald file photo.

The debate over charging a toll for crossing Diefenbaker Bridge is temporarily on hold while the City of Prince Albert waits for feedback from the provincial government.

The debate was supposed to happen at the most recent council meeting on Nov. 12. However, Prince Albert’s elected officials voted to postpone it until May 2020 while the provincial government’s Executive Director of Network Planning and Investment reviews the request. They’re also waiting for further correspondence from Highways and Infrastructure Greg Ottenbreit, who just started his new role in August.

Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller kickstarted the debate back in June 2017. She said it’s unfortunate the city can’t make the decision on its own.

“I think we’re grown up and we’re a city and we should do what we should do,” Miller said during the Nov. 12 council meeting. “We do have to come up with a third of the (funding) formula, because that’s what they expect us to do, so this is my solution.”

Miller reiterated those comments during an interview on Friday. She wants to see the City of Prince Albert partner with the provincial and federal governments to build a new bridge, and ideally they’d split the cost three ways. She sees a toll on the current bridge as a way for the city to pay for its share, and if the province doesn’t like it they can bring forward another proposal.

“If they want to come up with a different kind of solution that would be great,” she said. “But for now, this is the only solution that I know about.”

Miller also extended that invitation to local residents who aren’t convinced charging a toll is a good idea.

“Instead of sitting behind their computer saying whatever they need to say, come up and bring solutions to city council. That would be a great idea,” she said during Tuesday’s meeting.

Miller added that Prince Albert would grow into a second bridge, if one was built.

The City must have approval from the Ministry of Highways before implementing a toll on Diefenbaker Bridge. It also needs permission to access SGI’s vehicle database.

A previous city report on toll bridges estimated that Prince Albert could earn between $500,000 and $4.5 million in annual revenue depending on which vehicles they targeted and how high the toll was.

Focusing on all vehicles would generate between $2 million and $4.5 million, the report read. However, charging only non-residents would lower the intake to $1.9 million a year at most. The report also estimates it would cost roughly $1.3 million to install toll system infrastructure.

Roughly 24,000 vehicles cross Diefenbaker Bridge each day, which amounts to nearly 9 million vehicles per year. That number does not include motorcycles or bikes. The Friday before the August long weekend was the busiest day of activity, according to city traffic data. Nearly 30,000 vehicles used the bridge that day, including 2,527 between 4-5 p.m. alone.

The nearest alternative to Diefenbaker Bridge is the Cecil Ferry, roughly 26 km east of Prince Albert. The nearest bridge is the Gronlid Bridge, located 100 km east of the city.