Hamilton city council’s decision to order a judicial inquiry into safety concerns involving the Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) is costing local taxpayers a lot more than originally expected.
A report presented to the general issues committee Wednesday says $6.6 million has already been spent on legal fees, data collection and other expenses.
A date for the start of the public inquiry still hasn’t been set, but Eli Lederman, the city’s external consultant, says the total cost is now expected to soar as high as $12 million.
“It looks like council bit on this one,” complained Ancaster Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, “I think it’s just terrible that we’re wasting $12 million on this thing.”
When Hamilton city council voted to request the judicial inquiry in 2019, Ferguson had supported an investigation by the auditor general at a projected cost of about $350,000.
The initial estimated price tag for the judicial inquiry was between $5 million and $7 million.
Lederman’s report indicates that almost 115,000 documents fall within the scope of the inquiry. He adds that 65 current and former city employees are expected to be interviewed.
Lederman also indicated to city councillors that the public inquiry is expected to be “virtual” because of the ongoing COVID pandemic, and that it’s likely to begin late this summer or early fall.
Countering Ferguson’s criticism is Stoney Creek Coun. Brad Clark who said he remains “fully” in support of the decision to pursue a judicial inquiry.
“It will be a 100 per cent transparent process,” noted Clark. “If anyone thinks that the auditor general could have done this process and answered the call for transparency from the general public on this investigation or inquiry, no, it would never have been accepted by the community.”
Clark reminds colleagues that “we wanted it to be transparently open, with no recrimination and no accusations that staff or council was hiding any documents or any information.”
Clark also moved a motion during Wednesday’s meeting asking the province to help pay the bill for the inquiry, “given that they are now parties to this investigation and they were involved with this process in terms of the approval of the expressway.”
The RHVP inquiry, announced in April 2019, centres around a 2013 Tradewind Scientific report that analyzed friction levels on the parkway and suggested some safety issues.
The report recommended remedial actions and an investigation of the asphalt, but the findings went unnoticed for several years before the report was found in a locked computer folder in 2018.
Separate from the inquiry, the city is facing a $250-million class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of drivers who’ve crashed on the Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) since its opening in 2007. The suit alleges improper design and maintenance of the roadway caused drivers to crash.