By Andrew Harvey
Amalgamation and regional cooperation has been on the back-burner of provincial and municipal politics for some time now, but at the November 16th St. John’s city council meeting, mayor Dennis O’Keefe and the gang turned up the heat. Council unanimously voted to conduct a feasibility study on establishing a toll booth on the currently under-construction extension of the Team Gushue highway—a road which would stretch from Kenmount Road to the Goulds. O’Keefe went as far as to say the toll would be for non-St. John’s residents.
This all has come from Mount Pearl’s refusal to share the maintenance costs on the new extension. But their decision isn’t much of a surprise, considering Mount Pearl also refused to share the cost of the construction of the highway in the first place.
Over the last few months, letters have been flying between O’Keefe and Mount Pearl mayor Randy Simms, with O’Keefe asking Simms to recognize the benefit to Mount Pearl in the highway, and to pay 25 per cent of the maintenance costs for the highway. He cited a study which estimated 35 to 50 per cent of traffic on the new highway would come from Mount Pearl residents. But despite any traffic relief Mount Pearl might experience from the extension, no part of the highway extension is actually in Mount Pearl.
Simms has maintained all along that the highway is provincial jurisdiction, and they want no part in it.
“Establishing the precedent whereby municipal governments accept responsibility for provincial obligations is not one that we can justifiably entertain,” mayor Simms wrote in one of his letters.
In order to get funding to construct the highway extension, St. John’s agreed to take ownership of the highway. This leaves city council—and St. John’s taxpayers—responsible for the maintenance of the highway. And it’s expected to run $712,000 a year.
Councilor Gerry Colbert may have said it best, though, when he said “from the get-go, the road should have been cost-shared” adding that, “They won. They got a road for nothing.”
My hope is that coming out of this David versus Goliath inter-city tiff, municipalities of the North-East Avalon and across the province learn not to take ownership of things they don’t want full responsibility over. Play nice.