Bridge upgrades and a new school in the mix as province unveils capital spending details

·3 min read

Miramichiers can brace for traffic disruptions two summers from now, and communities looking to have new schools built will have more predictable rankings of priority projects, according to new details of the province's capital spending plan.

Key cabinet ministers fleshed out which construction and maintenance projects will be in line for scarce infrastructure dollars during a legislative committee session Wednesday.

They include the ongoing retrofit of Miramichi's Centennial Bridge, which will require the span to shut down completely for two summer construction seasons in 2022 and 2023.

The province chose that over a second option of closing the bridge in a single year but for a much longer time.

"We want to minimize the time we will have it closed," said Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Jill Green.

The 1.1-kilometre bridge, part of both Route 8 and Route 11, is also a major highway link between southeast and northern New Brunswick.

CBC News/Jacques Poitras
CBC News/Jacques Poitras

Trying to minimize impact, Green says

Green's department is already at work on plans to reroute traffic through the city of Miramichi.

"It is a major part of the transportation network and we realize that so we're doing our very best to minimize the impacts," she said.

This year's budget includes money to work on the bridge's piers, work that was cancelled for unexplained reasons by the previous Liberal government just before the 2018 election.

Green also confirmed there's $7.5 million in the capital budget to start design work on a new Fredericton courthouse. The Progressive Conservatives cancelled a previous iteration of that project in 2018.

CBC News/Hadeel Ibrahim
CBC News/Hadeel Ibrahim

No word on where new courthouse would go

Green wouldn't say whether the new courthouse will go on the site of the existing one or somewhere else in Fredericton.

The province is also advancing several projects that it had planned to do years from now to take advantage of federal dollars available through a special COVID-19 stimulus program.

Ottawa is offering to fund 80 percent of the costs, which prompted the province to move up a $5.5 million retrofit of the legislature's Departmental Building, built in 1888.

Adjacent to the main legislative building, it houses the offices of the official legislative journal Hansard, of backbench PC MLAs and two smaller political parties, and the legislative press gallery.

"We will be able to reduce future needs by accessing these programs," Green said.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Dominic Cardy said in his speech on his capital spending estimates that he's making changes to the system that ranks priority school construction projects, known as the Quadruple Bottom Line Analysis tool.

Cardy said communities have been frustrated because a high-ranked project can drop lower on the list because of unpredictable factors such as demographics from year to year.


Cardy announces new school for Fredericton

But now the five top-ranking projects that don't get funding in one year will be carried over into the top positions the following year, with construction hinging only on whether there is enough money in the budget.

"Now scoring high on a QBL is going to mean something," he said.

That means a long-anticipated new school for Saint John's south-central peninsula, which did not make the cut this year, will be high up in the queue next year, he said.

The only new school Cardy announced this year is a kindergarten-to-Grade 5 school for Fredericton's Killarney Lake area. It will relieve overcrowding at two existing schools on the city's north side.