Lacombe County council struggles with bridge repairs

Lacombe County’s aging bridges need to be replaced but paying for the projects is becoming a challenge.
County council, at its regular meeting Oct. 22, approved the projects for 2016 with the money to come out of the bridge reserve, which is expected to have a balance of about $4.6 million at the end of year.

“They were built at the turn of the century,” said Lacombe County Coun. Rod McDermand. “They are wearing out at the same time.”

The provincial government ended the bridge fund in 2013, and instead, rolled costs into an MSI payment to municipalities.

“They (province) said ‘here’s your money, you deal with it.’ There’s no top up for bridges,” said Coun. McDermand.

The county plans to contribute $2.6 million next year for bridges. But to keep up with all the bridges that have to be replaced in the county, they would have to put millions every year into the reserve fund.

“We have the capacity to raise the mill rate to deal with (costs),” said Coun. McDermand. “We have to have good infrastructure. People want to get across creeks and rivers.”

Council accepted the proposed five-year Bridge Replacement Schedule and authorized the County Commissioner to tender and award the 2016 capital bridge projects.

Proposed 2016 bridge replacements include: Township Road 39-2 and Range Road 3-1; Township Road 41-0 west of Hwy 815; Range Road 26-3 south of Township Road 40-2; Range Road 4-0 south of Highway 11; Pleasant Valley Colony Bridge; and Range Road 3-1, two miles north of Hwy 11.

Chip seal headaches
Lacombe County Coun. Rod McDermand told council either do a correct job on the chip seal on roads or don’t do it at all.

“I honestly think we can do a better job,” he said, adding that he’s not against chip seal being used on county roads, he’s just against using the lowest bidder and ending up with what he considers sub-standard results.

“I’ve been hearing from a lot of ratepayers who are upset with this stuff.”

Coun. McDermand was the only one to vote against using chip seal; thin layer of oil with gravel. He said he was speaking on behalf of the public and that some applications of chip seal may result in broken windshields as well as causing accelerated wear and tear on vehicle tires.

Lacombe County plans to redo 36 kilometres of road with chip seal. Chip seal, rather than using a thin layer of pavement, saves the county about $5,100 per kilometres, which means about $185,000 in savings on the $907,000 price tag. This translates into a savings of about $1.8 million with 355 kilometres of paved road in Lacombe County.

The county applies the chip seal to roads about eight years after they are paved to extend its life, provide better winter traction and better visibility for drivers at night.

About 13 km of Hwy 12 north of Alix will be repaved with chip seal next year. It sees about 379 vehicles per day.

County council voted in favour of putting the 2016 chip seal projects out for tender. But Coun. McDermand said the discussion isn’t over and they have yet to choose a bidder.
Low Canadian dollar affects county
The low Canadian dollar prompted Lacombe County to cut its 2016 equipment purchases.

They planned to spend about $3.8 million plus $1.7 million in trade-ins on new equipment which included five graders.  Instead, Lacombe County plans to spend about $534,000 plus $147,000 worth in trade-ins.

The county buys most of its heavy equipment from U.S. manufacturers and the low exchange rate has increased equipment costs by about 30 per cent in the last year.

Council unanimously approved the new equipment purchasing plan.

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