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Councillors commit to four-laning 'dangerous' MR35

$34M project to begin next year; city will debt finance if feds, province don't come through 
After decades of waiting, residents of Chelmsford and Azilda have new hope that MR35 will be four-laned, a $34 million project that should start next year. (File)

After decades of waiting, residents of Chelmsford and Azilda have new hope that MR35 will be four-laned, a $34-million project that should start next year.

A project on the books since the 1990s, the road has already been widened between Sudbury and Azilda. Completing the work has been delayed as the city's top priority was Maley Drive.

With that project now underway, the two councillors from the area – Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier and Ward 4 Coun. Evelyn Dutrisac – have been pushing hard for MR35

The pair introduced a motion Tuesday that would commit council to starting the project next year, even if applications for provincial and federal money aren't successful. The motion, which passed easily, would have the city debt finance the project in that scenario.

Montpellier said the environmental assessment on the project is due to expire, and “a new study would take potentially years to complete."

"This time-sensitive project must be on this fall's budget in order to start in spring 2018," he said. 

In the past 10 years, he said there have been 384 collisions on the "dangerous and deteriorated road," including three fatalities.

It's heavily used by mining trucks, and that traffic is expected to increase. And, he said, studies have shown that an expanded highway would reduce travel time for emergency vehicles responding to calls in those communities.

"After more than 25 years of talking about it, being approved and promised, on behalf of the 44,000 affected by this road, I ask my colleagues to support the motion to have this ... project be included in this year's budget," Montpellier said.

Dutrisac pointed out that residents in the area supported the slots facility because they wanted the revenue to go to MR35.

"We need to finish that section from Azilda to Chelmsford," she said. "We're asking for your support. MR35 was always second on the list."

But Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo, while supporting the project, worried that agreeing to debt-finance the project will make it less likely that the federal and provincial governments would fund it. 

"If we can get one-third and one-third from our friends in Ottawa and Queen's Park, I don't want to miss that opportunity," he said.

And Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh – the only councillor to vote against – asked what sort of impact debt-financing the project over 25 years would have on property taxes. 

Budget director Ed Stankiewicz said the cost would be $1.8 million a year, or a 0.7 per cent tax increase.

"So we would have to not do something else, or add it to the levy?" if the federal and provincial governments don't fund their share, she asked.

Yes, she was told. But Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier pointed out that the road work has long been promised to the residents, since they only accepted the slots facility to fund the project.

"The money was going to be used specifically for that road," Cormier said.
When amalgamation took place, he said commitments were made that the road would get done.

"It hasn't worked out exactly that way," he said.

The project is only going to get more expensive, he said, so it makes no sense, if the city is serious, to wait any longer.

"This is long overdue," agreed Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini.

And Mayor Brian Bigger said the motion wouldn't affect their applications to upper level of governments. The next round of infrastructure funding is expected in the fall, so the city will be ready.

"And I will continue to advocate at federal and provincial levels for funding," Bigger said.