When Lethbridge residents head to the polls this fall, they won’t just be electing eight city councillors and a new mayor.
On Tuesday, the current city council voted 6-3 in favour of a motion from Mayor Chris Spearman — who will retire at the end of his second term — to include a question on election ballots, gauging community appetite for construction of a third river crossing before 2030.
The question will read: “Do you agree that city council should approve plans to construct a third bridge prior to 2030 as a municipal capital project priority?”
The addition to ballots becomes the second question that will be asked by the City of Lethbridge after another was approved two weeks ago. That question will ask whether residents are in favour of using a ward system to elect councillors starting in 2025.
“Giving all citizens the opportunity to have input on this, as I said when we discussed the ward system, it’s not about whether we should have a ward system or not, it’s should we ask the question? It’s the same on the third bridge — should we ask the question?” Spearman asked.
Despite his upcoming retirement, the mayor said he plans to be quite active in his final three city council meetings.
“I’m in a really enviable position,” he said. “I can bring forward a lot of things that don’t have a political tint to them, in the sense that I’m not doing it to get re-elected.”
Some of Spearman’s colleagues raised concerns that voters wouldn’t have the full picture when voting on whether they are in favour of the project.
As part of the motion, council is directing administration to provide neutral information on the city’s website for voters. According to the city, that information will include:
- Expected capital cost
- Current traffic volumes, including peak and non-peak times of day
- Impact of borrowing required funding on municipal taxes
- Impact of external grants, if received from provincial and/or federal governments
- Expected economic benefit due to construction
- Expected economic benefit post construction
- Ongoing budget pressure associated with ongoing maintenance
- Estimated impact of greenhouse emissions and environmental impact
“It’s non-binding, we need to remember that,” said Coun. Blaine Hyggen, who is running to become the next mayor of Lethbridge. “When it comes back to council, this is not going to be binding, but I just want to make sure that the questions that are on the ballot, that people research them and they know what they are asking for.”
A preliminary design phase for the Chinook Trail River Crossing is expected to cost $4 million in 2027. The project is included in the 2022-2031 Capital Improvement Program, but is outside of the current four-year approval window. Council approved the projects for 2022-2025 earlier this year.
Projects scheduled beyond 2025 will need to be approved by the incoming council.
Spearman said while a third bridge would no doubt come at a very high cost, the results of a vote like this could be used to council’s advantage when looking for government funding.
“What provincial government, who wanted to win seats in this city in the future, could say, ‘We’re not going to fund a third bridge in the city of Lethbridge?'” Spearman asked. “So it could be a political asset to the next city council.”