In response to Garry Haas’ letter in The Morning Star, the letter raises some important questions that need to be considered prior to dedicating public funds to such a project.
With respect to the cost of acquisition, this will ultimately be established in negotiations between governments and CN and perhaps the Okanagan Indian Band. This negotiation will determine if the corridor is purchased, the price, and how it will be used.
The Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative (ORT), a group of volunteers and supporters, is suggesting that this corridor be preserved for future use as a transportation corridor and, more immediately, a community pathway connecting the north and central Okanagan. The Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative has taken on the task of gathering information to assist in an effective decision-making process, including a benefits analysis. We think that securing the property as public land is a once-only opportunity to benefit our communities. Without knowing the final price, the full cost-benefit cannot be determined at this time. We can however estimate some of the costs and benefits.
The ORT is working on determining the cost to convert the rail bed into a usable pathway. At the moment it is estimated that it will fall between $5 and 7 million. The ORT thinks, and will take actions to ensure, that much of this money will be raised from infrastructure grants, individuals, businesses and other organizations once the corridor has been purchased.
Yes, there will be maintenance costs. The costs can be minimized by construction of a high-quality trail, which is one of the assumptions of the cost estimates provided in the previous paragraph. Ongoing maintenance can be accomplished through raising money from individuals and businesses, accessing revenue sources from the operations of the trail, leasing unused portions of the right of way, or having each section of trail maintained by volunteers and/or some level of government. The operating authority will likely access all of these revenue sources and maintenance strategies.
The ORT hired local economic development experts to assess potential benefits of the rail trail. Their full report can be found at www.okanaganrailtrail.ca/resources. The three companies that collaborated to complete the assessment are well-established, credible organizations that have conducted many socio-economic assessments in the past. Their analysis is based on similar studies of other rail trails, using 43 reference documents and interviews with 25 key informants.
When estimating the use of the trail, the analysis team divided the trail into 14 sections and estimated each section by user group. The estimates were based on usage of other similar trails, current traffic in other parks in the Okanagan, tourism data and trends for the Okanagan, and current use and estimates of the rail with trail section constructed in Kelowna. As it takes a few years for residents and visitors to learn of the trail, the number of users increases over time. The research team estimates that by year five, there will be 583,000 visits each year resulting in an additional direct increase in spending of $6.7 million per year. They estimate that this will create 66 full-time equivalent jobs.
ORT thinks that, due to the high summer temperatures in the valley, much of the use of the trail by visitors will be in the shoulder seasons. A group from Vernon doing the Katie trail in Missouri this year has planned their trip for late September for this reason. Both the north and central Okanagan have considerable excess capacity in the shoulder seasons — empty hotel rooms and unfilled restaurants. In other areas where rail trails have been developed, when the hotels and other infrastructure have not met the demand by customers, businesses have filled the need. This includes not only campgrounds, hotels, B&Bs, and restaurants, but also bicycle rental shops, tour guides and other support services.
With regard to Hass’ concern about increased traffic, we think that it is important to separate pedestrian and cyclist traffic from automobiles and transport trucks. The rail trail should reduce traffic congestion and will certainly improve the safety of cyclists and will encourage non-motorized travel.
The operator of the trail has yet to be determined. If the corridor is purchased and designated a community pathway, at that time those involved will likely make an informed decision as to what organization is best situated to operate the trail. ORT thinks that municipal and provincial government, and/or the Okanagan Indian Band will make an informed decision that is in the best interest of our communities.
The ORT will support the process of determining the future of this corridor in any way that best serves our community.
Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative