Editorial: One for the road

What does it take for a small community like Burns Lake to get new roads?

A recent article in the Lakes District News, entitled “Filling in the cracks on Eighth Avenue” prompted some heartfelt responses from readers on Facebook who are clearly fed up with the craters and cracks.

“How can you fill something in if next to nothing is there?” asked one commenter. Another even suggested tearing up the pavement and going back to gravel roads if the village can’t find a way to pay for an overhaul of the holey streets.

Indeed, cash is at the heart of the matter.

The relatively modest project described in that article — resurfacing two blocks of badly beaten-up pavement — would set the village back to the tune of $372,000. That’s the route that was chosen by council at their April 24 meeting.

The village has said that Eighth Avenue is structurally sound. But it’s reasonable to wonder if repaving these worn-out streets is just cosmetic — lipstick on a pig, as it were.

That raises the specter of a massive investment: it would cost an estimated $3 million to rebuild Eighth Avenue alone, including an overhaul of the foundation, along with new water lines, sewer lines and storm drains. Rebuilding the streets of Burns Lake in this way would surely cost tens of millions, if not more.

The Eighth Avenue project is part of a five-year plan to gradually repave ten troublesome stretches of road.

But village staff has acknowledged that after a hard winter, that list is looking patchy. And one imagines that the list will only grow, just as surely as the seasons will change.

This leaves the village in a difficult position. It was rejected — not once, but twice — by the Strategic Priorities Fund, a major source of infrastructure money administered by the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM).

In the most recent round of applications, 112 projects received approval, allowing communities across B.C. to tap into a pool of $190 million in funding that comes from a tax on every litre of fuel at the pump.

Burns Lake’s request for $2.7 million for Eighth Avenue was among the other 108 projects that were rejected.

Asked about how these decisions are made, UBCM director of communications Paul Taylor said that provincial engineering staff review the applications and give them a score “based on technical merit in accordance with program guidelines.”

Those scores form the basis of recommendations given to a management committee for the fund — made up partly of officials from the federal and provincial governments, but mostly UBCM staff. “Because there is a limit on the funding available, the projects with the highest scores receive funding,” Taylor said.

It’s demoralizing to be constantly rejected. And it raises important questions about how these applications are being assessed. What does a small community like Burns Lake need to do before it can get some support?

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