PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. - The Saskatchewan government is reconsidering construction of a second bridge in the city of Prince Albert — with a caveat.
Premier Brad Wall says in a letter to Mayor Greg Dionne that the province will pony up money if the project is approved through a public-private partnership with the federal government.
"I've talked about it in generalities, but I want to confirm today for people of Prince Albert and area that our provincial government is committed to funding our share of a second bridge for the city of Prince Albert," Wall said Monday.
"The federal government under this process would also be a partner and then the local government would also need to be a partner."
Wall notes that Saskatoon went through a similar process for a bridge and he says he's confident the Prince Albert application would get serious consideration. A time frame for the new bridge would be up to the city and would depend on when it submitted an application, he said.
There has been talk of building a second bridge in Prince Albert for several years.
However, a report released in January 2013 found that the existing Diefenbaker Bridge hasn't reached its traffic volume capacity and isn't likely to for up to 30 years. The report also said the lack of existing and unforeseen congestion on the bridge suggests a second span would have a minor impact, if any, on freight movement or traffic delays.
The premier said those numbers haven't changed, but he also said the province should help if a project is eligible for the P3 Building Canada program.
"If we have the private sector and three levels of government and the local level of government highlighting what its priority is, for example a bridge, then you bet we'll be a partner."
One major concern Dionne has had is the amount of hazardous materials being transported across the Diefenbaker Bridge and through the heart of Prince Albert.
The Diefenbaker Bridge is currently the only one crossing the North Saskatchewan River for more than 120 kilometres in either direction.
In September 2011, one of the bridge's girders fractured. Repairs were done and officials have said that should allow the bridge to be in service for primary weight trucks for another 25 years.
Wall said there's a rough estimate that a new bridge could cost about $150 million. It's not clear how that could be divided between the province, the federal government and the city.
"There's no set ratios in the program, so I think that's something we could work together and explore what the right ratio is for all three partners, and, as I said, maybe there's a role for the private sector to join in the funding as well."
The Opposition NDP believes a second bridge is necessary to spur economic growth and realize the potential of Prince Albert and the north.
But NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon said the city shouldn't be forced into a public-private partnership.
"Prince Albert families and businesses need a second bridge. They do not need manipulative political games," Wotherspoon said in a news release.
"Telling Prince Albert their only hope for a second bridge under this government is if they go the privatized route is an attempt by this government to hold a city hostage to its politics."
— By Jennifer Graham in Regina
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