BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
Construction on the Coulter Bridge is coming to an end with access along Highway 251 expected to open on March 23.
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 grand opening of the bridge will take place on March 29 at 11 a.m.
The absence of the bridge for the last several years had residents finding creative ways to get across the waterway.
Shirley Kernaghan, who lives about half a mile 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, but 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, which she needs a ladder to get on to, crossed it, trudges through a field and hopped into another car on the other side of the river. All to cut down her rural commute.
The bridge, expected to open to traffic on March 23, according to the committee, is roughly the same size as the old one, but a metre higher.
When the project first started, it was scheduled for completion in the fall of 2013 but work was halted after MIT didn’t 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 sent 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 coming to and from oil fields, will no doubt be relieved when the ribbon is finally cut.
"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. According to the Manitoba government, a project like this takes about five years.
The important traffic corridor connecting the two communities on Highway 251 has been under construction since January 2013.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 17, 2014