South Dundas faces some tough infrastructure challenges in the upcoming budget and the next few years to come. Serious spending by municipal government over the past three years cannot make up for the decades of under-spending on certain needs. This includes roads, bridges, and other municipal facilities.
Some of the most expensive items that need urgent consideration are bridges. The recent bridge inspection report presented at council highlights the failure of successive governments to keep pace with the deterioration of our bridges. Many councils of the past opted to decide projects using the principles of triage rather than long-term planning. Now faced with replacing a closed single-lane bridge that is well past its serviceable life, South Dundas council must decide what to do next. And that decision should also include public consultation of some sort.
There is a logical argument for replacing the Taylor Road bridge. The bridge is a short cut well-used by local residents; there are houses near the bridge where having the convenience of a through route saves time; and there is precedent for maintaining the level of service. The previous council approved repairing the South Branch Road bridge, which kept the bridge open for another 25 years. If an action has been taken before, should it be taken again? If a certain level of service or an amenity is in place, should residents expect that service to continue?
There is also an argument to be made for looking at the big picture and seeing which bridges should remain open – and which should close. Are there alternative routes? What are the convenience or inconvenience factors? Is there a good return on spending for those who foot the bill for this infrastructure – us?
At no point should an arbitrary decision be made without proper consultation, but these discussions need to happen. Not only with adjacent property owners but also the wider South Dundas community.
Replacing a bridge like Taylor Road, is estimated to cost about $1.5 million. There are about six homes on the road, which if the bridge is not replaced still have access to the rest of the municipal road network. Is there justification to replace that bridge? Are there less-costly options? We are not advocating for either side, but that consultation needs to be had.
Spending money on infrastructure often does not have a direct and easily seen tangible return-on-investment. Infrastructure does have many indirect, long-term benefits which is why it is crucial to make the right choices whether it is spending $15,000 or $1.5 million.
Municipalities spend our money, and a lot has been spent by this term of council. Much of that spending has been playing catch up from past councils’ dithering – water towers, landfill, and maintenance. As South Dundas moves into budget season – the last budget before the municipal election – future spending must focus on the must-haves, not the nice-to-haves.
Engaging residents to determine what those priorities are is a must have conversation.