The historic Water Street Bridge across Trout Creek in St. Marys has been closed to vehicular traffic, and recommendations about what might be done to have it re-opened will not be made available to Town Council until September, 2014 at the earliest.
Manager of Operations Chad Papple brought the recommendation for closure to councillors in closed session at their regular meeting Tuesday, July 23. A subsequent news release from the Town explained that “as a result of the most recent structural safety review of the bridge, the Town’s engineering consulting firm has recommended (its) closure.”
The bridge will remain open to pedestrian traffic and non-vehicular modes of transportation.
In an interview with the Journal Argus Wednesday afternoon, Papple said the 2013 structural safety review, completed by the B.M. Ross firm on an annual basis in keeping with provincial legislation, was initiated on May 8. Approximately six weeks later, the Operations department received the advice that the bridge should be closed.
“There was some work done on the bridge in the summer of 2012,” Papple noted. Totalling about $60,000, that work — predominantly on the underside of the structure — included re-coating of the metal and repairing cross beams.
But the pin-connected truss bridge was built in 1898, and the Director of Operations says the steel is definitely showing its age. (B.M. Ross) did see some significant deterioration since their 2012 inspection,” he explained.
He clarified, however, that it was “a combination of things” that led to the closure recommendation. Included in that combination were persistent reports that vehicles regularly use the bridge despite weighing in excess of the posted five-tonne limit.
Papple says that restriction, as well as a subsequent height limit of 2.5 metres that is easier to enforce — due to the installation of bars across the bridge — were put in place by the town, at the recommendation of B.M. Ross, in an effort to extend the bridge’s lifespan. But it has become clear that not all heavy-vehicle drivers adhere to the weight limit.
“Town staff has noticed violations; residents have noticed violations, nearby business owners have noticed them,” he said. “Even the inspectors noticed them when they were out there looking at the bridge.”
Weight restriction or no weight restriction, however, the news release offered a dim prognosis for any eventual re-opening of the structure.
“The bridge is at the end of its useful life and has deteriorated to the point that it is unsafe to continue with its current type of vehicular traffic,” it stated. “The Town of St. Marys understands the inconvenience this may cause some of its citizens; however, it is implementing this recommendation to ensure the ongoing safety of residents and users alike.”
Papple, meanwhile, offered at least a sliver of hope that cars might one day resume crossing the structure. He explained that Town decision-makers, anticipating that the recommendation to close the Water Street bridge might be coming soon, have already initiated an Environmental Assessment into the replacement and/or repair of both the Water Street and Wellington Street crossings. That assessment, also to be led by B.M. Ross on behalf of the Town, began in May. And, although “it’s a regulated process (which) can’t be expedited to meet a certain need of the town,” he suggested it might be possible that the end result would be recommendations on how to bring the aging bridge back into use.
“EAs are about an 18-month process,” he said — which delays any possible next step to September of 2014.
As a result, until that time, the bridge will remain closed to vehicles.