PEMBROKE - Renfrew County will move ahead with developing an active transportation corporate policy.
During their budget workshop Wednesday in Pembroke, county councillors voted unanimously to spend $189,274, representing 35 per cent of the current value assessment, on active transportation once staff have come back with a policy framework in March.
Admaston/Bromley Mayor Raye-Anne Briscoe, chair of the finance and administration committee, readily admitted residents continue to smoke, drink and eat too much, but active transportation will lead to healthier communities.
To support that notion, Michael Nolan, director of paramedic services, told committee that active transportation will reduce pressures on the health care system, decrease chronic disease and rates of obesity and diabetes, and improve overall productivity.
Staff further explained that active transportation will increase the attractiveness of the county to new residents and investors, increase and diversify business opportunities, and enable the county to compete in the growing business sector of tourism with other regions.
“1.7 million tourists come into Renfrew County,” said Paul Moreau, director of development and property. “We're trying to increase that.”
While seen as necessary, active transportation could prove to be a costly venture especially if the county cannot rely on annual provincial and federal funding. Staff pointed out the benefits to including active transportation in future capital projects noting that it costs $15,000 per kilometre to add a 0.5 metre shoulder onto a new stretch of roadway. To retrofit an existing stretch, will cost $40,000 per kilometre.
“This is a fairly comprehensive undertaking,” said Dave Darch, director of public works and engineering.
“As soon as you expand your platform you will incur costs.”
County councillors supported investing in active transportation noting the challenge will be to come up with sustainable funding. Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards Mayor Janice Visneskie noted that developing recreational opportunities is something ratepayers are demanding. Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet added that infrastructure, like sidewalks and bike lanes, are becoming more common in subdivision planning.
However, North Algona/Wilberforce Mayor Harold Weckworth said there are concerns over liability. Last week, the county received a legal opinion stating that should the county move ahead with hardening of shoulders to permit bicycling, there would be additional potential liability implications with respect to increased monitoring, maintenance and signage. He said there are residents in his municipality that still need convincing.
“There has to be more consultation at the local level,” he said.
Applauding from the public gallery, members of the Physical Activity Network, a group of citizens and organizations championing active transportation, were buoyed by the passage of the resolution.
“It's great that Renfrew County is doing as other counties across the province are in putting together a comprehensive plan to make our roads safe," said Ish Theilheimer, who last year organized Bike Renfrew County, an advocacy network. “I don't see how anyone can disagree with spending a toonie for safety, especially where it concerns so many seniors, children and families.”
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist firstname.lastname@example.org
Pembroke Daily Observer