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Supporters of the Trafalgar Bridge have once again achieved a stay of execution for the structure. But it’s unclear how long it will last.
Perth South council voted 3-3 on Oct. 16 when faced with a recommendation from township staff to close and remove the 108-year-old bridge, which spans the Thames River south of Mitchell. With Coun. Bill Adams absent from the meeting, the tie vote effectively killed the motion.
“As far as I know, if it’s the same resolution, it now can’t be brought back up (before the current Perth South council) unless two of the people who originally voted against it support bringing it back, and then there must be a majority vote of council to bring it back,” explained Perth South Mayor Bob Wilhelm, when asked about the ramifications of the Oct. 16 vote.
The recommendation to close the Trafalgar Bridge was originally tied into another motion for similar actions at the nearby Avonfoot Bridge. The Avonfoot Bridge spans the Avon River just before it enters the Thames, and is located on Line 14 only a short distance south of the Trafalgar Bridge.
After some discussion, however, council agreed to split the two recommendations, and vote separately.
Speaking after the Oct. 16 meeting, Coun. Don Henderson offered the opinion that the Avonfoot was seen by some of his counterparts as “a trade-off” for the staff recommendation. He suggested some councillors may have hoped that, if there was support to close the Avonfoot, the pressure to close Trafalgar would be lessened.
No such trade-off was mentioned publicly in the meeting. But with the two recommendations separated, there was sufficient support from Council that the Avonfoot Bridge will now be closed. And when it came to the Trafalgar Bridge, Henderson, Melinda Zurbrigg and Liz Armstrong voted against closure, thereby providing the bare minimum of opposition to keep it in place.
“It might be smart business (to remove the bridge), but this is a community,” Henderson said, when asked his rationale for maintaining the bridge. “Taking it out would be like cutting a community right down the middle.”
One major complicating factor with the Trafalgar Bridge, however, is that it lies on a section of Line 12 that serves as a boundary line between the municipalities of Perth South and West Perth. As such, its upkeep is shared by the two municipalities.
On Oct. 1, a joint public meeting was held in Mitchell at which engineering consultants reported about the work which would be required to ensure the bridge continues to adhere to safety standards.
“There’s a major repair that has to be done within two years, and some more work that must be done within six years,” said Wilhelm.
“I hope you can appreciate the predicament we’re in,” commented West Perth Mayor Walter Mackenzie at the Oct. 1 meeting, after the township’s operations manager outlined numerous other bridge and road repair projects that could potentially take a higher priority than the Trafalgar Bridge. Wilhelm said Perth South has a similarly long list of needs.
West Perth councillors were scheduled to discuss a staff recommendation regarding the bridge this week. And if they vote to close it, Perth South’s decision to keep it open would make the situation more complex.
“Council has to be prepared, if they want to keep it open, to pay for it. And that becomes a budget issue,” Wilhelm said.
Henderson, however, said too often, “the people in the outer hinterlands” of rural-based municipalities suffer when it comes to budget issues.
“Those people get a whole lot less than people living in or near major population centres,” he said, adding he’s committed to finding a way to keep the bridge open.