Meaford's council held its first meeting of 2019 on Monday, and it was everything one might expect, and also some of what people might hope for.
As for what one might expect, the meeting was lengthy, and at times frustrating, but if you're looking for some hope, this council appears to be laser-focused on infrastructure and continuing the trend in recent years of pumping as much funding as possible into roads and bridges.
Of course there will never be enough funding to properly tackle our infrastructure funding deficit, and part of the frustration Meaford residents have felt in recent years is that they simply don't know when (or even if) their own crumbling roads will be repaired, due to the much loathed policy of 'keeping the good roads good' while the rest languish in hopes of some miracle funding one day.
This new council however appears to want to move away from the 'keeping the good roads good' model, and they have signalled to staff that they would like to see another model implemented that could, in the words of Councillor Paul Vickers, “give people hope”.
So 2019 could very well be the year that Meaford sees some true progress on the infrastructure front, with more funds dedicated to our crumbling roads and bridges, and quite likely a new model for prioritizing roads for repair and rehabilitation will be on the way.
Right off the bat our new council is saying the right things and sending the right signals, which is perhaps why I find it so frustrating when they get bogged down for a second time debating flower boxes and decorative lights for the Sykes Street bridge rehabilitation.
I appreciate that many people disagree with me on this, but I simply can't be supportive of spending additional funds on a bridge solely to make it pretty, as it is the 'gateway to the municipality' (I am so tired of hearing that phrase), and it is the entrance to our 'heritage district', when we have real problems mounting up with roads and bridges throughout this municipality.
The news that Meaford had received 90 percent funding for rehabilitation of the Sykes Street bridge through the province's Connecting Links program was fantastic, but the total cost has been creeping upward, and all of the extras aren't covered by the grant funding. The project is now nearly half a million dollars over the original budget. Some of that extra funding is reasonable and justified. The cost to keep one lane of the bridge open during the rehabiliation rather than closing the bridge completely for the duration of the project makes sense, even at an additional cost of $150,000 – it is after all the most travelled bridge in the municipality, and a full closure would be frustrating indeed.
It's the additional costs for things like stamping the concrete to simulate brickwork, or the addition of decorative light standards when there are four perfectly fine and relatively new light standards already in place that drives me bonkers.
Infrastructure in my mind, in this era, should be a tool, not a showpiece. Those days are simply gone. The purpose of a bridge is to allow vehicles and pedestrians to cross rivers or other obstructions, and nothing more. Creating grand showpieces out of infrastructure should be reserved for times of great excess when all other issues have been addressed and there's nothing better on which to spend money. But you don't turn a functional bridge into a Taj Mahal when there are hundreds of kilometres of roads in the municipality in need of work, and a number of bridges also in dire need of attention, not to mention the ones that have already been closed or that are soon scheduled to be closed.
In short, I think in many ways this new council is on the right track, and have rightly prioritized infrastructure needs above all else. Which is why I find it so disappointing that the same group of councillors can so gleefully engage in excessive spending on a bridge solely so that it will impress people.
But here's a thought. As I mentioned to our Deputy Mayor recently, I consider myself a fairly observant person. I observe things for a living after all, and I have driven over the bridge in Thornbury a thousand times, yet didn't once notice that the concrete on that bridge was stamped to simulate brickwork until councillors mentioned it to help justify their own desire to have the same look for our Sykes Street bridge. I have asked at least a dozen people if they have ever noticed the concrete stamping on the Thornbury bridge, and only two indicated they had; the other ten had no idea in spite of regularly crossing that bridge.
So for the additional cost of tens of thousands of dollars, we too will have a faux-brickwork treatment on our bridge that many are likely to never even notice. Is that money well spent? In this era, I think not.
Fear not, however, as I think that once council gets the Sykes Street bridge project off their plate, they will be far less likely to waste money on frills, and will focus on the needs.