Cost of Kanata road widening grows secretly, councillor says

City councillors are being asked to increase the budget for a controversial road-widening project in Kanata South by $4 million, according to one city councillor for the area — but they don’t know it.

Rick Chiarelli says the Kanata South Link project now costs $4M more

The road widening at Old Richmond Road and West Hunt Club Road is set to be complete in 2021. (Google Maps)

City councillors are being asked to increase the budget for a controversial road-widening project in Kanata South by $4 million, according to one city councillor for the area — but they don't know it.

The $38.7-million Kanata South Link project involves widening Old Richmond Road and West Hunt Club Road to Highway 416 in order to alleviate major traffic congestion caused by new housing developments.

The roads are currently two lanes wide, and they act as a major commuter route through the greenbelt in a quickly developing part of the suburbs.

They also run into Coun. Rick Chiarelli's ward. He told CBC News it took him nearly a week of digging to discover the cost of the project had ballooned by $4 million because it's not apparent in the budget documents. 

Chiarelli said he was never alerted to the increase, which is set to be approved in the 2018 budget on Wednesday.

The project also runs through Coun. Scott Moffatt's and Coun. Allan Hubley's wards as well. 

Hubley did not respond to CBC's request for an interview. Moffatt said he got an email from city staff the day after the budget was tabled, alerting him the project needed more funds.

But it didn't include how much more would be needed, he said.

This map shows the commuter route the city hopes to improve by widening roads and improving intersections. (Google Maps)

Cost increased behind the scenes

Back in 2016 and 2017, city council allocated $14.7 million to carry out the design and engineering work and to acquire the property needed for the project.

The 2018 draft budget asks for an additional $24 million to begin construction on the widening for Old Richmond Road and other road improvements.

In an emailed statement, Alain Gonthier, the city's director of infrastructure services, said now that the design work is well underway, the city has a better idea of what the project costs.

Chiarelli said the estimate, however, is $4 million more than originally anticipated. CBC asked city officials for the initial cost of the total project, but they did not respond to the request.

The budget documents for the Kanata South Link does not show the total cost of the project. (City of Ottawa )

In an email to Chiarelli's office, city staff justified the expense after explaining there weren't enough funds to complete all of the road widening.

"If we added the $4 million to what we had allocated, we could build a partial construction scenario with less throw away in the future. Therefore it made sense to add this amount to the total," the email read.

It was a response, Chiarelli said, that didn't make any sense.

"I'm thinking of sending that away for translation," said Chiarelli, adding he was still trying to figure out why the cost of the project has gone up.

Coun. Jean Cloutier said councillors should always be made aware if there are major changes to the scope or price of a project.

"It is imperative that the local councillor, the responsible committee and council be aware of these changes and be able to make the final decision to contain the costs associated with the project," Cloutier said. 

Meanwhile, the vast majority of the road widening will be paid using development charges. The city's share of the 2018 funds is $1.2 million.

Controversial project

The city had initially planned a more direct route between the new homes and the highway.

That plan would have seen Hope Side Road extended through the Greenbelt, but the National Capital Commission deemed it too environmentally destructive.

Instead, the city decided to widen the existing route that runs from Hope Side Road to the highway and install roundabouts to keep traffic moving.

But some critics said even that plan will have too great an impact on the natural area — a possible habitat of the threatened Blanding's turtle species.

Trevor Haché, a board member with the Healthy Transportation Coalition, was one of several people who asked council to put a stop to the project during budget consultations, arguing it was too expensive and would hurt the environment.

"There's all sorts of concerns relating to the increased amount of vehicle lanes and the impact that will have on the species at risk," Haché said.

Budget as frustrating as Ikea instructions

What critics didn't know was that the cost of the project had grown, because it wasn't apparent in the capital budget documents.

The capital budget doesn't reveal the total cost of projects, or how that cost changes year to year. This year's budget simply lists the amount of funds deemed necessary in 2018.

It's as frustrating as the instructions for IKEA products — the difference being IKEA actually wants you to be able to put it all together,- Coun. Rick Chiarelli

"It's as frustrating as the instructions for IKEA products — the difference being IKEA actually wants you to be able to put it all together," Chiarelli said.

"We're supposed to be priding ourselves on openness and transparency, but there's no point in being open and transparent and then not supply the information."

While most of the focus has been on the operating budget this year, the capital budget has proven difficult to decipher, even for councillors.

"For the average person out there, it's virtually impossible," said Coun. Catherine McKenney.

Officials from the city's treasury department were not available for an interview.