Of the 1,175 kms of back alley roads here in Edmonton, two-thirds are listed in poor or very poor condition. This is something I’ve heard from residents both while campaigning and during my time as Councillor. I would suggest it’s the most common complaint our office receives and yet it’s one that did not have many solutions to properly address the complaint. It was clear we needed a program, similar to the Neighbourhood Renewal Program, that would address the aging infrastructure and preserve the lifespan of that investment. The desire to see a new program is what sparked an inquiry I brought forward in 2014. The history of that inquiry can be found in this blog post from last year along with a report from April 2016 that outlined a strategy for alley rehabilitation and options for funding the renewal work. You can read the April 2016 Transportation Committee report and all attachments here (item 6.6). As part of our 2017 Spring Supplemental Capital Budget adjustment that was presented to City Council on May 9th, Council unanimously voted in favour of an alley renewal strategy and I want to share the details of that plan.
Level of Service:
Analysis was done to determine the most appropriate level of service using both quality of repair/upgrades and timeline as indicators. Based on this, Administration presented Council with the following target options:
While a high level of service is optimal, it unsurprisingly came at a higher cost compared to the medium level of service. The high level of service option would also put our alleys to a higher maintenance standard than our local streets. On the other hand, the medium level of service would still leave us with 20-30% of alleys in poor and very poor condition. Therefore when this was presented in November 2016, I was curious to see if both quality and cost results would change drastically with a level of service that was between the medium and high scenarios. I had asked for these results to be included in the Capital Profile when it came to Council for approval before deciding on which level of service to fund. That report can be viewed here (item 6.3) but I’d like to provide a summary of both options provided:
Option 1 – Medium Level of Service: As listed above, this option will require approximately $18.4 million (in 2016 dollars) annually for the next 25 years. A gradual ramping up of the program starting in 2019 would require an incremental tax levy increase every year from 2019 to 2022 to achieve a 1.08 percent cumulative increase – approximately a 0.3% tax increase each year for four years.
Option 2 – Medium-High Level of Service: This option will require approximately $20.0 million (in 2016 dollars) annually for the next 25 years. A gradual ramping up of the program starting in 2019 would require an incremental tax levy increase every year from 2019 to 2022 to achieve a 1.18 percent cumulative increase – approximately a 0.33% tax increase each year for four years. This option would treat our alleys similar to our local streets in front of our homes.
Ultimately, Council chose to go with Option 2. I felt this was the right call because in many of our mature communities, the back alley is used regularly and the conditions of our back alleys have become so poor that it is important to bring them up to a proper standard more quickly than what is in Option 1. This motion to proceed with Option 2 also asks that Administration report back on options to accelerate the elimination of condition index grade F. These options will be reported in the second quarter of 2018 and will give us firm numbers on how best to front-end much of this long overdue work.
This will be a phased implementation much like Neighbourhood Renewal or Arterial Road Renewal programs. The annual amount of renewal work is tentatively planned to increase over four years starting with 10 kms of renewal in 2019 and reaching the required level of 49 kms of annual alley renewal by 2022.
Options to Address current Local Improvement Accounts:
Council was also presented with three options to address residents already paying for alley renewal through a Local Improvement Account with the City. This is when area residents come together to pay for the renewal work of their alley. In 2015 there were approximately 1,513 active tax accounts (as of 2015 year-end) for alley renewal through a local improvement assessment. These local improvements have expected expiry dates ranging from 2016 to 2029 and represent approximately $12 million of remaining payments. We wanted to make sure there would be some concessions for those residents currently making local improvement payments for alley renewal work. Council debated this and ultimately chose option 3 which would see a reduced property tax for residential properties owners that currently pay alley Local Improvement taxes. This would set their tax rate slightly lower to offset the additional property tax levy to fund on going alley rehabilitation and renewal.
I am very pleased that the alleys will now be constructed with a proper base which ensures the preservation of the alley in the long-term even with heavy load trucks (garbage, etc). This will go a long way to minimize the water pooling and vehicle damage that occurs. I am also excited about how this will impact small scale growth in our mature neighbourhoods. In order for laneway housing (ex: garden suites) to be viable and successful, we need to ensure there is the appropriate infrastructure in place to accommodate this growth. Alleys are an important part of our communities and therefore it is crucial that the city properly maintains them. While reaching every community will take time, you can be confident that since there is a plan in place, your alley will be be given the attention it deserves.
Written by A. Knack and K. Machin