The Coulter Bridge reconstruction will be fast-tracked so it will be completed by November 2013 for approximately $10 million, Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said Wednesday.
The area’s MLA, Larry Maguire questioned how it could be fast tracked, when that was the promised completion date anyway, and area residents including Shirley Kernaghan are happy that the bridge is being built at all.
That has been the saga residents of the RM of Brenda and the RM of Arthur have had to endure while government deals with the aftermath of the flood of 2011 that buckled and busted the old Highway 251 bridge between Waskada and Coulter.
"Clearly we have a difference in opinion as to what accelerated means, when do what you said what you were going to do," said Maguire, the Arthur-Virden Progressive Conservative MLA. "When it’s a year and a half late, it can hardly be called accelerated."
Ashton responded that under normal conditions, tendering requirements and environmental approvals, it can take five years to get a bridge built.
However, by not starting the process of replacing the bridge sooner, Maguire said construction crews missed an opportunity to build when the river’s level was "at its lowest in 20 years" and the weather conditions were dry.
"This is just a process that for him to say (the bridge is being fast-tracked) is misleading," Maguire said. "Purely from Day 1, we have been trying to accelerate this process by doing things earlier.
"Now they are thinking about pouring concrete and sure we do that in the winter time in Manitoba, but clearly it’s not the optimum time and there’s more expense to building during these times. If they have other reasons for delaying this, why don’t they say so?"
Ashton said the contractors will now be on site in December to build the new foundations for the bridge, and the rest of the work includes building the girders before spring runoff. The deck and railing components will be done during the summer and fall, as will the approaches.
"It’s actually going to start construction so it has accelerated to some very significant developments over the next period of time," Ashton said. "It’s the case with a lot of projects that you set a target and you try to meet them and you don’t always meet them. In some cases, things occur that shift the time frame back. The fact that the contractors expect to be on site over the next couple of weeks is very good news. It means we are on track."
Ashton noted that the new bridge will be able to handle the oilfield traffic and will be built to withstand future growth.
"It’s an improved bridge from the previous one and when we do have a situation like we do from the flood, we don’t just work on replacing the existing bridge," Ashton said. "We look at what the future growth of the area and what traffic flows are and …the significant growth that’s happened since the original Coulter Bridge was built."
Kernaghan said the government’s proposed timeline of a bridge by November 2013 gives area residents a more definitive answer to the question they have all been asking: When is the bridge being replaced?
"To me, it’s not rocket science to build a bridge," Kernaghan said. "I’m sure there was some place in Canada that had a bridge ... where they could have gone, looked at the design of the bridge, and done it a lot sooner than the end of November. But at least they have done something. We don’t have our temporary bridge. Now we have another calving season, another planting season and another harvest to go through before we get the bridge."
Kernaghan said that the longer it took to get a bridge built, the longer people and homes would be at risk because of longer emergency services response times.
"If I had a fire at my house, it would be gone before fire trucks could get there because they would have to come from Melita or Pierson, which is a lot further than Waskada is," Kernaghan said.