St. John's considers deferring city projects as other communities push on through pandemic
Gander, Corner Brook continuing capital works projects
The City of St. John's is considering pushing off a number of capital projects — some of them years in the making — due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as other cities and towns continue with infrastructure projects.
During its meeting Wednesday, the City of St. John's committee of the whole recommended the deferral of 11 city projects, costing close to $1.5 million.
Projects recommended to be deferred include decorative lighting for downtown St. John's, tree planting initiatives around the city and a study of the George Street revitalization project.
The deferral of the Bike St. John's master plan was originally on the city's agenda, but was ultimately removed from the list of possible deferred projects after multiple councillors were uncomfortable with the decision to defer.
The city has budgeted almost $378,000 for the plan in a cost-sharing project with the federal government, funding the city hopes to receive from the provincial government this year.
The city said the goal of the deferrals is to reduce cash outflow and provide council flexibility as they make a plan to move forward.
"Considering the current pandemic and significant uncertainty of the length and full impact on taxpayers and ultimately city finances, staff felt it prudent to review and identify any capital projects which could be deferred," reads the agenda on the city's website.
Some projects, such as work being done on Water Street, will continue. The city will also continue projects such as the addition of two new sidewalk snow blowers and four sidewalk plows, grinding and patching work around the city, the affordable housing strategy and the flight attraction contribution to St. John's International Airport.
Projects that have already had tenders awarded or work already started will also continue, along with projects that require funding from other groups and projects that must be finished by a certain day.
St. John's city council will still need to vote on the committee of the whole's recommendation to defer projects at a future meeting.
Other communities continuing work through pandemic
Although capital projects in St. John's have been deferred due to the pandemic, other towns across the province are moving forward.
"Here in Gander we have approximately $5 million worth of capital roads work to be completed," said Gander Coun. Pat Woodford. "All our contracts and tenders are all in."
Woodford said the town decided to move forward after concerns the amount of projects would build over the course of 2020 and into 2021. Other concerns came around finding contractors for next year, when other municipalities will need contractors to complete the work that will be delayed this summer.
"If we were to assume that we're going to have roughly the same amount of road work next year, we'd have $10 million," he said.
"Trying to find a contractor to do $10 million of work would be very difficult, especially when you look at other municipalities and cities within the province that are also deferring their road work. So we would have a lot of problems finding contractors to bid and accept this work."
The town says contractors brought in to work on projects this summer must follow all provincial and federal regulations related to COVID-19 safety precautions, including wearing masks and physically distancing. Woodford said this was initially an issue for some contractors, but concerns have been sorted out.
Work will also be continuing in Corner Brook, with projects including a roundabout at the area of West Valley Road and Confederation Drive, a culvert replacement the town hopes to have finished by September and the recent approval for a new aquatics centre in the city.
"We're continuing on with our planned capital projects to the extent we can," Mayor Jim Parsons said. "We have a few on the go but it might be a slightly slower summer than usual."
Parsons said the pandemic has changed some elements of capital projects in the city, including an impact on cost-sharing programs between the city and the provincial government.
"The one big thing it has done is that without the passage of the provincial budget, we haven't received word on the status of our multiyear capital works program," he said.
"We're not able to do any work under that funding program this summer and usually that one would have come out during the spring budget."