Saint John Mayor Don Darling is hopeful the St. Patrick Street escalators, a key component of the indoor pedway system, will finally be back in operation by the end of the week.
But he says council needs to come up with a long-term plan and decide whether replacing the 35-year-old infrastructure with stairs might be a better option.
"I'd say that everything should be on the table, and we should make decisions that are well within our fiscal or financial capacity," Darling said on Tuesday.
The city's maintenance contractor, Otis, has completed a third round of repairs and testing of the St. Patrick Street escalators, he said.
Now, the city is just waiting for a provincial inspector to make the trip from Fredericton and give the escalators the green light, he said.
"That is supposed to be [on Wednesday], weather permitting," said Darling. "But we've got between 30 and 45 cm of snow coming," he added.
The municipally owned escalators have been out of commission since Jan. 11, when inspectors determined they did not meet public safety code requirements.
The two previous repair jobs failed a new provincial standard requiring smaller gaps on the sides of the steps and as they collapse into one another at the top and bottom of an escalator, before they loop back around.
"Let's hope" the third time's a charm, said Darling.
The province added the so–called "skirt index test" after an accident in late July, on the escalator at Market Square, Samir Yammine, the city's energy manager told common council at the March 6 meeting. The accident involved a child who suffered an injury to his hand.
Public pressure to get the escalators operational has been mounting with the approach of the 2017 East Coast Music Awards, which Saint John is hosting in late April. The event is expected to bring thousands of visitors to the uptown.
The escalators are part of the heated indoor passageway that links several key buildings between the waterfront at Market Square and the City Market on Charlotte Street.
There is no alternate staircase available while work is underway on the escalators; pedestrians are forced to use a tiny elevator normally reserved for people who are disabled.
"Certainly I want to apologize to our citizens," and thank them for their patience, said Darling. "We know it's a tremendous inconvenience and it's not OK."
Stairs healthy, cost-effective option
"What I'm interested in medium- to long-term is having a conversation around whether we can keep these running," he said, noting the annual maintenance contract costs about $26,000.
"We are facing a budget crunch in a number of categories."
Darling could not say how much installing new escalators would cost, but that would be one option.
Another option would be taking the escalators out and putting stairs in, he said.
"There would be a health benefit to that, and certainly from a long-term maintenance perspective that would seem to be a little more cost-effective, and we'd still have the elevator there for people who have mobility issues."