The unlikely (and welcome) return of the Fort York bridge

Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan:

Though it wasn’t originally on the agenda for today’s meeting, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee will be considering whether to revive plans for the once-planned Fort York bridge—plans that were killed without notice earlier this year. The proposals being examined today are for some cheaper alternatives, ones that would bring the cost of the bridge down, say staff estimates, by anywhere from six to eight million, depending on which design the committee opts for.

via The Return of the Fort York Pedestrian-Cycling Bridge? | Torontoist.

Soon after Dotan’s article was published, the Public Works Committee approved a new design with a projected cost of $19.7 million.

Back in May of this year, I published a series of posts on this topic, concluding that Council’s decision to kill the original design for this bridge meant that we’d probably never see the project completed. (At least not under this administration.) “If we don’t build this thing on the planned schedule,” I wrote, all wide-eyed and sure of myself,  “it’s essentially never going to happen.”

So, for the record, let me say a couple of things. First: I was wrong. And second: this is good news.

There are still a bunch of questions to ask about this whole process. Given that $1.7 million had been spent on the original design — see page 13 of this staff presentation — are we to assume that that money was, essentially, wasted on nothing? And then there’s the new timeline for construction: is a capital savings of (potentially) $8 million — presumably less the $2 million in sunk costs on the previous design — worth a delay of three years?

And most importantly: was there any reason, aside from spite, that the motion to kill the original design was introduced at the last minute, without informing the local councillor?

I guess these questions are mostly irrelevant at this point. Water under the bridge.

It’s about selling city-owned land, stupid

Last May, Councillor David Shiner — seemingly the guy behind both the surprising death and unlikely rebirth of this project — told us rather plainly why the original bridge design was killed:

Building the bridge eliminates two future sources of cash, Shiner said.

He estimated 10 Ordnance St. — the property where the bridge’s centre columns would be placed — could fetch more than $50 million if sold, while the Wellington St. city-owned property where the bridge would start is worth around $20 million to $25 million.

via Pedestrian bridge to Fort York latest casualty of war on waste | Toronto & GTA | News | Toronto Sun.

Lo and behold, the new design allows for redevelopment opportunities that weren’t possible with the original plan. More public land can now get sold into private hands, with the proceeds used either to pay down capital debt — thus freeing up some of the operating budget that currently goes to debt servicing — or, in a pinch, to cover an operating budget gap directly.

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