This article first appeared in print in the September 2018 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.
With the City of Revelstoke’s development cost charges bylaw (DCC) update fresh on everybody’s mind, it’s a good time to talk about our infrastructure and the future of our city. The significant increase in DCCs outlined in the proposed bylaw speaks to a city that is struggling to find ways to meet our future infrastructure needs. DCCs can only be used for the construction of new infrastructure (such as roads, sewer, water, and parks), not for maintenance. Maintaining what we currently have will become increasingly difficult as our infrastructure approaches the end of its lifecycle.
Typically the way infrastructure gets built is through new development. In addition to paying DCCs, the developer is required to enter into a municipal development works agreements with the city that sets out how the developer will pay the capital costs to build roads, water and sewer on their development property. If built to the municipality’s standards, the city will take over the infrastructure. It is then the city’s responsibility to manage, maintain and eventually replace these infrastructure pieces … indefinitely! The replacement cost, whether in 40, 50 or 100 years, will come predominantly from residents. This means we need to ensure we’re not building infrastructure that we won’t be able to afford in the future. Even if we don’t expand our infrastructure at all from today forward, we’ll still have to figure out how to pay replacement costs when our current infrastructure reaches the end of its lifecycle.
Revelstoke has approximately 109 hectares (270 acres) of paved roads. Using the BC Government’s Community Lifecycle Infrastructure Costing (CLIC) tools built in operating and maintenance costs, we can begin to understand our financial commitments, which come in at approximately $14.3 million. In very simplistic terms, this is roughly what we should be spending to maintain our current roads. Infrastructure costs grow even further if we include sewer and water costs.
The two main options for tackling our infrastructure costs are to either increase revenue or decrease costs.
With most planning issues, the time to do this is required. Increasing revenue means supporting higher density development in the right areas of the city. This typically means locating townhouses, apartment houses, and mixed use buildings on our busier city streets. This increases revenue by having more people paying for the same length of road or pipe. Higher density can also support mixed-use mom and pop neighbourhood shops, better transit and create walkable, neighbourhood-oriented communities, while preserving the surrounding single-family built form.
Decreasing costs is a little more difficult to achieve given the permanence of existing infrastructure. The City of Revelstoke has done the first step of this by adopting an Asset Management Policy (August 2017) and completing a Strategic Asset Management Plan (December 2017) that will better consider lifecycle costs. What we may find is that we will need to reduce our infrastructure costs in the near future, so we can afford ones we’ve already committed to.
While the infrastructure issues can seem beyond the ability of the average citizen to affect, we can advocate for the following things that can help reduce costs:
- First, it’s always best to test the following solutions out through Temporary Pilot Projects. Creating temporary bike lanes or wider sidewalks through the use of pylons or other temporary infrastructure can allow the city to test proposed changes (narrower lanes & extended curbs, narrower intersections, etc.) before spending the capital to make the changes permanent.
- A road diet — reducing the average width of our existing roads by 1m (1.6 ft from each lane) would bring our O+M costs down from $14.3M to $12.9M.
- Converting roads to other less impactful uses like bike lanes, bike parking or wider sidewalks. Pedal Fort Collins has estimated that for every dollar’s worth of damage that a car does to a road, a bicycle, travelling the same distance on the same road, would perpetrate $0.0005862 worth of damage.
- Reduce crosswalk widths — This not only reduces the cost to maintain asphalt, but creates safer, more comfortable pedestrian crossings.
- Integrate more surface stormwater infiltration into our street design. Not only does this reduce the need for stormwater infrastructure and result in better water quality, but it can create an attractive streetscape.
To me, the infrastructure problem is similar to climate change. It’s easy enough to say it’s not a problem now and put off dealing with it. Leaving it for a future generation to figure out. But, as we’re seeing with climate change, at some point it will start to catch up to us. And the cost of dealing with it when it shows up may be worse than the cost of dealing with it today.