Chet Greason, email@example.com
The councils of Perth South and West Perth held a joint meeting in Mitchell last Tuesday to discuss the future of the historic Trafalgar Bridge.
The 108-year-old steel truss bridge, which crosses the Thames River at Line 12 just south of the community of Motherwell, is located on the border between the two municipalities. As such, the responsibility to maintain the bridge falls to both municipalities.
In recent years, calls to shut down or replace the bridge have been met by opposition from local residents. The public information meeting was no different, with Motherwell-area residents attending to express their support for the bridge’s prolonged existence.
The crux of the meeting, held in the upper chamber of Mitchell’s municipal building, was a presentation by engineering firm BM Ross and Associates. Engineer Ryan Munn ran through what his firm believes are the approximate costs of repairing, replacing, and removing the bridge.
Munn divided up needed repairs into three year, 10 year, and 15 year increments, with the most crucial repairs, including the repair of deteriorated stringers and chords and the re-facing of the western wing walls, needing attention soon.
“The bridge will be closed in two to three years if no repairs are done,” he said.
Crucial repairs done within the next three years are expecting to cost the municipalities $171,000. Subsequent repairs done over 15 years will bring the total cost of maintaining the bridge to $339,000.
Replacing the bridge with a concrete three-span structure similar to the Glengowan Bridge to the south or the Motherwell Bridge to the north is expected to total $3.17 million, while $50,000 of that would cover the cost of an environmental assessment. This type of bridge would come with a 75 year life expectancy.
Removing the bridge, which would include re-grading the slopes, erosion protection, and an environmental assessment, is estimated to cost $180,000.
Environmental planner Kelly Vader walked the crowd through environmental assessment (EA) procedure. According to Vader, no EA would be needed should the bridge simply be repaired. Removing the bridge would constitute a schedule B EA, which would include assessing the bridge’s heritage value. Any work that would require significant dredging of the river would require an EA, as there is currently one fish species and six mussel species living in the Thames that are currently at risk, as well as the spiny softshell turtle.
Vader also noted it would be possible to simply retire the bridge, closing it to vehicular traffic but leaving it open to pedestrians, cyclists, and snowmobilers. However, doing so would still require repairs and inspections every two years.
It was also noted that abandoning the bridge would leave both municipalities liable.
A vehicle count conducted by the County of Perth showed an average of 53 vehicles cross the bridge daily during late summer. The low count is thought to be due to the bridge’s three-tonne weight limit, which forces heavy trucks to use stouter bridges to the north and south.
Councillor Don Henderson, of Perth South, noted the similar issues nearby St. Marys has been having with its steel truss bridge, which despite repairs done last year meant to prolong its life was closed to vehicular traffic this summer.
“If these repairs are made, will we know it will last?” asked Henderson, who added he thought the bridge was worth saving for its picturesque quality, citing the scenic bridges of New Brunswick and Vermont as examples of unique fixtures that bring in tourists.
Munn said there was no guarantee that, if repaired, Trafalgar Bridge wouldn’t need further repairs down the road.
Former Perth South deputy reeve, Gerald Wallis, acknowledged that, at one time, people credited him with being the bridge’s saviour after he fought for its maintenance the last time its future was questioned.
However, he admitted, “I’m beginning to see that we need to do something other than throw money at it," and said he’d like to see both councils design a plan that works.
“Maybe not keep that bridge, but another bridge there without spending $3.1 million.”
Wallis also noted the last time the bridge was repaired, the municipalities received 75 per cent funding from the provincial government. No such funding is available this time.
West Perth’s operations manager, Mike Kraemer, said the municipality currently maintains 130 bridges, many of which were built during the 1960s and are all now needing substantial repairs. He admitted his department is running at a deficit trying to keep up.
Perth South director of public works, Larry McGregor, said that, while Perth South has less bridges (60), many of them are also nearing their end of their life expectancy at the same time.
“I hope you can appreciate the predicament we’re in,” West Perth mayor Walter McKenzie told the crowd. “When there’s no provincial funding available, we have to foot the bill ourselves.”
The Trafalgar Bridge issue is expected to be further discussed at the two townships’ next meetings, Perth South on Tuesday, Oct. 15 and West Perth tonight, Monday, Oct. 7.