BRANDON -- It was a long time coming, but an important river crossing in the heart of the province's oil territory is scheduled to be completed by the end of the month.
The Coulter Bridge, connecting Coulter and Waskada on Highway 251, was demolished following a July 2011 washout and forced some travellers to drive an extra 40 minutes to get over the Souris River.
After construction delays last summer, the Bridge 251 committee eagerly announced the bridge will reopen March 23.
The absence of the bridge for the last few years had residents finding creative ways to get across the waterway.
Shirley Kernaghan, who lives about a kilometre from the bridge, said an ice road was created during the winter months even after the province closed off the route in 2012, citing safety concerns.
The following year, the ice road was once again created, and an ice-fishing shack was placed on the river to deter Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation from closing off the route again.
"So, we put a fishing shack out there," Kernaghan said, "and the government can't stop you from going out and fishing to get your food."
This past winter, the ice road was once again established, and the province didn't close it down even though there was no shack.
"I guess they were sick of it," she said. Kernaghan, a vocal member of the committee to get the bridge back into commission, was even more creative during the summer months.
To get to her job in Waskada three days a week, the retiree drove her vehicle to an abandoned bridge, climbed a ladder to get onto it, crossed it and hopped into another car on the other side of the river.
The bridge is roughly the same size as the old one, but a metre higher.
The project had been scheduled for completion in the fall of 2013, but work was halted after the province refused to allow the contracted company, Vancouver-based Surespan Group, to haul concrete to the area during the flooding season last year.
A letter from Surespan to Kernaghan at the time said "once the high water came, it did not recede until the end of July.
"A total of 16 weeks were lost because of MIT's decision-makers. Now Surespan faces many difficulties if not impossible challenges to get this bridge opened by November of 2013."
The area, now crawling with vehicles going to and from oil fields, will no doubt be relieved when the bridge is opened.
"It'll be quite a busy piece of road once it's open," Kernaghan said.
"There's a lot of activity between Waskada and Pierson, especially with oil companies; they really needed that bridge and it's cost them a lot of money to go around," said Arthur-Virden MLA Doyle Piwniuk.
"There's going to be a lot of activity coming up, some are going further east towards Goodlands, so there's a lot of activity in that whole corner."
The government fast-tracked the estimated $6.5-million bridge work after the 2011 flooding.
The Manitoba government said, a project like this normally takes about five years.
-- Brandon Sun