Representatives of a group seeking speedy construction of a temporary bridge over the Souris River at Coulter were enraged to see a one-lane crossing built at Hartney when their concerns fell on deaf ears.
Shirley Kernaghan and Betty Miller were in Brandon on Monday to ask how a one-lane bridge on Highway 21 was deemed safe near Hartney when their call for a similar bridge over the same river at Highway 251 was repeatedly denied.
“We are very happy the people of Hartney have this temporary bridge, but why, when they already had a bridge to use?” Kernaghan said. “We were told no because of the possibility of high water, ice jams or debris.”
She added that residents of Coulter or Waskada have to drive approximately 80 kilometres using a gravel road to bypass the now dismantled bridge, or 120 kilometres if travelling through Melita, which she regarded as an unnecessary hardship for local residents.
Rachel Morgan, a spokeswoman for Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton, said several factors have led to the decision not to allow the temporary bridge, including safety concerns and the estimated six-seven million dollars cost of the structure.
“There are a number of issues, including that it would have to be a long structure and that’s technically difficult and not normally practical,” Morgan said. “There are other concerns, in that a temporary bridge would not be able to handle the oilfield traffic in that area, so those vehicles would still be using the detour.”
Morgan said, while the government can’t guarantee there would be an ice jam or issues related to flooding on the Souris River that could make a temporary bridge unsafe, the safety risk of a bridge washout while people were on it was considered not acceptable.
“What I am being told about the new bridge construction is that the engineering work is going well and the environmental approvals are on their way to being done,” Morgan said. “We are still planning to start construction this fall with a completion date next fall.”
Kernaghan said the government should have considered the oil revenues it takes out of the region when debating how much money to put into a temporary bridge and a permanent replacement structure.
“We know that the government is receiving a lot of revenue from the oil industry in our two municipalities (the RMs of Arthur and Brenda) and this money is used to fund projects throughout the province,” Kernaghan said. “We would like to see some of the revenue come back to us in the form of a temporary bridge that would be a great asset to all.”
Kernaghan and Miller added the Highway 21 solution is a one-lane span that can handle truck traffic.
“They already had an access road a mile and a half away that they could use, but we don’t have anything,” Miller said. “We are sick and tired of the runaround we have gotten on this.
“We aren’t asking for the world here. We are just asking for a temporary bridge and we had financial assistance and they still wouldn’t budge.”
Morgan said the Hartney and Coulter situations are not the same, in that the length of the temporary bridge proposed by Coulter residents makes the bridge potentially unsafe.
Morgan said there was financial support from oil companies working in the Waskada and Coulter areas for a temporary bridge, but the combined costs of the proposal and the need to meet provincial standards made it too difficult to proceed with. She noted the government has taken steps related to concerns the heavy traffic on the detour road has made it unsafe.
“We have reduced the speed limit there and posted more signs and continue to meet with the rural municipalities about traffic safety,” Morgan said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 31, 2012