$6-million loan urged to speed up E&N Rail Trail

The Capital Regional District parks committee is recommending borrowing $6.1 million to speed up completion of another two phases of the E&N Rail Trail linking Langford to Victoria.

The $6.1 million would be spent on two sections of the trail with an eye to completion in 2019. On Wednesday, the committee voted to recommend that the CRD board approve the borrowing plan.

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The hope had been to complete the entire trail through the use of grants.

“I think we have to consider it,” parks committee chairman Mike Hicks said, adding that congestion will only get worse with the McKenzie interchange construction, so developing alternative routes is important. “Some of us feel that that congestion is just out of control now and if there was a time to do it, the time’s now.”

One of the sections is a one-kilometre stretch in Langford estimated to cost $3.6 million. It would close the gap between the existing trail ending at Savory School and a new segment along Atkins Road built by Langford this year with Bike B.C. funding.

This section will connect existing sections of the trail between Savory School and the Galloping Goose Regional Trail, creating a continuous 11-kilometre off-street route between Langford and Victoria.

What is being called phase four is a 1.3-kilometre stretch from Esquimalt Road to the Johnson Street Bridge, estimated to cost $2.49 million. If approved, it would bring the total spent on the trail to date to more than $24 million — most of it through senior-government grants.

Langford Mayor Stew Young, while welcoming completion of the Langford section, noted that the E&N trail is engineered to a higher standard necessary for a pedestrian trail along an active rail line.

As a train is not using the tracks, Young wondered whether it might make more sense to build it to current conditions and then upgrade it if and when it becomes necessary. “Make sure that we’re building it right now as if the train is not running and leave the other money in the bank. Then if the train is running, then you build it to the higher standard,” Young said.

Last week, Victoria councillors committed to working with the CRD to engage owners of the private lands designated along the railway corridor in Victoria West to complete the trail from Esquimalt Road to Victoria Harbour as soon as practicable.

Councillors also agreed to have staff work with the CRD to complete detailed design of the trail on city-owned land between the Bayview property and the Galloping Goose Regional Trail/Johnson Street Bridge.

CRD staff say if $6.1 million were borrowed, the total payment over a 15-year period is estimated to be $7,600,592, based on a 2.9 per cent interest rate.

CRD staff would continue to seek grants to reduce the amount of internal funding required to complete the E&N Rail Trail.

The goal of the project is a 17.5-kilometre biking and walking trail in the E&N Rail right-of-way through five municipalities. Construction began in 2009 and the estimated cost to completion is about $36 million.

CRD staff are also recommending the parks committee consider extending the park-land acquisition fund beyond 2019.

The fund was established in 2000 for a 10-year period at a rate of $10 per average house. In 2010 the levy was extended for another 10 and the rate was increased gradually to its current level of $20 per average household value. The fund generates about $3.7 million per year but expires in 2019.

Between 2000 and 2014, the CRD, with its partners, purchased 4,485 hectares of land totalling $48 million through the fund, with the CRD contributing $35 million and partners contributing $13 million.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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