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Prince George city council ponders how to expedite unfunded capital projects

Time needed by city staff for project planning and cost estimating is limiting factor
A bike rider goes for a spin on the trails at Pidherny Recreation Site on the western edge of Prince George. Improvements to the Pidherny road access and parking areas are on city council's priority list of unfunded projects.

Part of the job of a city councillor is listening to residents and business owners and responding to their concerns about where their tax dollars will be spent.

Since they were elected to form council in October 2022, the eight councillors have identified several capital projects which were left as unfunded when council passed its 2024 municipal budget in January.

Wednesday in a committee of the whole meeting with city staff, council wanted clarification from city staff as to how to get those unfunded projects moved forward. They asked how the city makes its decisions on future capital projects and how much lead time is required for staff to determine timelines and attach accurate dollar-figure estimates on what each project would cost.

As Kris Dalio, the city’s director of finance and IT services explained, many months and sometimes years of lead time are required to bump up a capital project on the city’s to-do list.

“When we have projects listed in the unfunded section, they’re not refined estimates, they’re placeholders, bookmarks with a very high-level off-the-cuff number that we think the magnitude of it will be. If council wanted to pull that (into the funded category) there’s a lot of planning and design work that needs to come first before we can give a proper budget and put it in a current-year funded section on the budget plan,” Dalio said.

“It’s not as simple as pulling it from four years away and saying let’s do that right now. There’s a lot of work that needs to come up and that might take a year to do before we can even put it on a funded plan. It’s planning and design and making sure we have an actual budget we can be confident in to give to council.”

Eight unfunded capital projects on council’s wish list were discussed at Wednesday’s meeting, each with a rough estimate of cost and year that they would be considered, including:

Pidherny Recreation Site improvements - (2026, $335,000) – Develop short- and long-term improvements to the access road and parking areas in the Pidherny and North Nechako areas. This would address concerns about health and safety issues from user groups and neighbouring residents.

Tyner Boulevard bus pullouts – (2028, $50,000; 2029 - $325,000) – Projected increased use of BC Transit with the building of new residential subdivisions is expected to also increase traffic on Tyner, especially near the intersection of University Heights Drive where the proposed bus pullouts would be built on either side of what is projected to become a four-lane road. The first pullout would be built close to where it would serve the most residents to provide safe loading and off-loading of bus passengers.

Handlen Road improvements (2029 - $700,000) – Construction of 260 metres of on-street bike lanes along Handlen Road between Kelly Street and Highway 97. Project would upgrade a short stretch of the existing road to collector standard, with new storm drainage, street lighting and a concrete sidewalk to improve safety for students walking to schools in the area.

Hart Connector Trail  (2025 -$2 million) – Plan and develop an off-street trail connection from the Hart area to the Bowl area of the city. The current path on the shoulder of the highway is narrow and close to vehicle traffic which passes by at highway speeds through sections that have limited sight lines. This was identified in the city’s Pedestrian Network Study and Active Transportation Study as an important link that would benefit all users.

Playground replacement program – (2025- $275,625) – This would utilize results of the city’s playground audit to determine risk factors and compliance to Canadian Standards Association guidelines in the city’s 65 playground areas. Playground priorities consider community need/demand, land use, playground distribution, provisional standards, condition assessments and the health of area children to determine reinvestment needs and surplus sites. The program allows for removal of playgrounds in low priority areas, as determined by the Audit Risk Assessment and direction from Park Strategy.

New trails/paths – (2025, $275,625) – Develop new trails as proposed in the 2008 Centennial Trails Project and 1998 City-Wide Trail System Master Plan and off-street path identified in the 2001 Cycle Network Plan.

Bob Harkins Public Library concrete deck upgrade – (2026-27, $1.528 million) – Complete concrete repairs, replace concrete deck railing and add a weatherproof coating to the library sun deck and planters.

Bob Harkins Library  flooring – (2026-27, $434,000) – Replace current flooring with carpet tile.

Dalio was asked if an unfunded project was put on an expedited timeline within the next year, could it be paid for using the Terasen Gas lease-in, lease-out agreement residual fund or from some other surplus. If so, would it be possible to get that project approved by planning staff in time for the December Finance and Audit Committee meeting so that it could be included as a funded project?

“The time required to update a project from unfunded to funded is dependant on the size and scope,,” said Dalio. "There is a July Finance and Audit meeting where city staff will bring back unfunded projects that council could identify as a priority and city staff could provide updates."