Transportation planners say Saskatoon can't stall on building its North Commuter Parkway.
They've narrowed their priority list for the next decade down to 20 projects, including a North Commuter bridge, a replacement Traffic Bridge, along with interchanges, and arterial roads to move motorists in new suburbs into the rest of the city.
"It's where the activity is happening now. It's where the demand is and that's where we're identifying our priorities," Angela Gardiner, manager of the City of Saskatoon's Transportation Branch, said.
Target for new bridge is 2016
Almost half of the priority projects relate to building a North Commuter Parkway. To alleviate congestion on Circle Drive North, the city has set a target of 2016 for opening a new north bridge.
"We looked at all the development that's happening in the northeast from a residential point of view and the people that are trying to get to work that are typically in the north end, that's where the majority of our employment growth is," Gardiner said. "That's where a lot of our priorities are targetted now with the north commuter bridge."
The plans call for road construction across Saskatoon's northeast swale, an ecologically sensitive area north of the new Evergreen subdivision, and east of the South Saskatchewan River. The wetland area is a diverse habitat for plants and animals, including three birds currently listed as federal species at-risk.
Preserving sensitive ecological areas is a priority
Guidelines approved last week at Saskatoon's city council meeting emphasized the need to preserve streams, floodplains and wetlands in the swale, along with minimizing the creation of hard or impervious surfaces.
"There are specific locations where we can cross the swale that will have minimal impact," Gardiner said. "In the design, there are opportunities for wildlife to cross underneath. We haven't determined exactly how, but that will be built into the design."
Most of the projects on the list do not have funding in place. City officials say a further report will be provided later this year to outline how much they'll cost.
"Just for an example, the average cost of an interchange is thirty million dollars," Gardiner said. "If you add that all up there's a significant amount of funding required."
"We're trying to identify what our priorities are over the next ten years so we can better focus our planning and our funding requests," she said.
Council members will consider the report at an executive committee meeting on Tuesday.
Gardiner admitted the priority list does not include any mention of public transit, pedestrian, or cycling trails.
"When we do build this infrastructure it will accommodate pedestrians and cyclists as well," she said. "But it is focusing on a higher level of people getting around the city at a higher speed and higher volumes."