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Is it worth investing millions in cycling in Prescott-Russell?

Making the region more cycle-friendly could cost $22 million, and to Marc Clermont, the public works director of the United Counties of Prescott and Russell, that may not be a bad idea.

That amount comes from a study done by engineering firm Morrison Hershfield and presented at the latest UCPR meeting.

Earlier this year, the UCPR received a $419,000 grant from the province to implement a commuter cycling plan. Only problem was there was no plan. So the UCPR used abut $50,000 from the grant to hire the engineering firm to come up with a long-term cycling solution.

The plan

According to the study, presented by Bassam Hamwi and Muna Awatta, 85 per cent of people in Prescott-Russell drive to work and only 0.3 per cent use a bike.

So far, the UCPR’s attempt to make roads cycle-friendly has been to pave wider shoulders; the study showed there are currently 283 kilometres (48 per cent) of roads with a paved shoulder. The study suggested continuing along those lines by paving an additional 174 kilometres and upgrading (widening or adding a buffer) to another 237 kilometres.

It also suggested paving about 12 kilometres of the Prescott-Russell Trail and connecting it to the National Capital Commission trail network in Ottawa—two long-held points by advocates of the trail.

All of this would be over a 20-year period, spending about $1.1 million a year.

Long-term unclear

Mr. Hamwi explained that containing the cycling plan within the larger infrastructure vision is more cost-effective. The addition or widening of shoulders can be done as regular roads come up for re-paving.

“It looks like big numbers but really in your existing budget, we’re spending more than that per year,” said Clermont. “We’re spending 30 per cent of our (public works) budget on paved shoulders.”

East Hawkesbury Mayor Robert Kirby raised the issue of paving “land we don’t own”, referring to the trail. The UCPR’s position has been to keep the trail “on life support” as it hasn’t had the opportunity to sit down with current owner VIA rail.

Hamwi reassured council that if it was to renew the lease with VIA, “it would be worthwhile to pave it and would not be throwing away money.”

Finally council decided to accept the study to receive this year’s grant to pave County Roads 4 in Hawkesbury and 9 in St-Isidore. However, the implementation of the cycling plan long-term is still uncertain.

“The next council will have a very big decision to take,” said Hawkesbury Mayor Jeanne Charlebois. “What I’m seeing and hearing is there is a potential throughout the Counties to establish a cycling route.”

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