City earmarks $300K of leftover project cash for autonomous vehicle test track

People watch as an autonomous car drives down an Ottawa street as the City of Ottawa and Blackberry QNX demonstrate the vehicle on Oct. 12, 2017. Fred Chartrand/CP

The city of Ottawa wants to use $300,000 of unused funds from other municipal projects towards getting the city’s autonomous vehicle (AV) test site up and running.

The private test track at the National Capital Commission’s Greenbelt Research Farm — bordered by West Hunt Club Road, Woodroffe Avenue, Fallowfield Road and Greenbank Road — still needs three signalized intersections, according to a report submitted to the city’s finance and economic development committee.

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Should committee and city council approve the transfer of $300,000 towards the track, those funds would cover the cost of installing four poles to support the suspended signal heads, as well as the hydro posts and wiring to power them.

“With these funds, the site would become immediately usable to begin testing of autonomous vehicles,” said the report, submitted last week.

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Every year the city seeks council’s approval to close a number of projects and simultaneously recommends what can be done with any savings or leftover funds. The treasury might suggest transferring money to other projects, for example, or returning the cash to its original source.

READ MORE: Auditor General finds National Capital Commission’s assets lacking

The finance committee will consider the city’s report on budget transfers — including the proposed extra funding for the autonomous vehicle test track — at its next scheduled meeting Tuesday morning.

The NCC’s Greenbelt Research Farm contains 16 kilometres of private roadway, according to the city’s report, and has received funding from the Ontario Centres of Excellence Autonomous Vehicles Innovation Network (AVIN) program.

The program announced a month ago it was giving Invest Ottawa $5 million for the national capital’s projects related to connected and autonomous vehicle testing, like the test track. The city of Ottawa and the NCC are two of a number of partners involved in the site’s development, including local post-secondary institutions and the Ottawa offices of tech giants like IBM Canada and BlackBerry.

City says it has $32.4M in leftover funds; wants to transfer $1M of that to pothole repairs

In the report, city staff said they have $32.4 million left over from the $618.7 million budget originally approved by council. The finance committee will consider the city’s report on budget transfers at its next scheduled meeting Tuesday morning.

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“(This) will result in $2.6 million being returned to tax supported reserve funds, $15.2 to rate supported reserve funds, $7.2 million being returned to the development charge accounts along with a reduction of $7.4 million of debt authority that is not needed to fund these projects,” the report said.

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In addition, the city wants to spend $1 million of those savings on more pothole repairs.

“The number of freeze/thaw events in the winter of 2017/2018 has resulted in an increase in pothole and asphalt repair needs,” the report said. “The additional $1 million are one-time funds to assist in these efforts.”

The 2018 municipal budget carved out $8 million for its asphalt repair program — something it has been trying to improve since November, when the auditor general raised concerns that the asphalt the city was using fell short of contracted standards.

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