The province would be forced to impose restrictions on the deteriorating First Street bridge for safety reasons if it isn’t rehabilitated soon, according to an official with Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation.
That’s why the First Street bridge has become a top priority for the province, and pre-construction planning has already begun.
"It’s not like the bridge is going to fall down, but if we don’t get in there and get the work done, we will have to restrict it in the near future," said Ruth Eden, director of structures, design and construction with MIT. "And we don’t want to have to do that for the city."
Restrictions could include closing lanes or restricting loads.
Concrete deterioration can be seen on the bridge’s deck, which is a concern, but there are also several other upgrades needed.
"Concrete deteriorates with time, and the longer it stays in service without anything done, the quicker it deteriorates," Eden said. "So for us, we need to get in there soon and get this work done."
The plan for First Street bridge is a "major rehabilitation," which includes replacing the deck, strengthening the girders and tier repairs.
"Just to basically deal with all of the issues that we have out on that bridge and make it last for another 40 years," she said.
Pre-construction planning on the First Street rehabilitation was done in 2013, and MIT is now going into detailed design.
Construction will happen in 2015, between April and November.
"We’ll go in and do one half and then the following year, in 2016 … we’ll go in and do the second half," Eden said. "So it will be open to four lanes of traffic over the winter."
The cost of the project is estimated at $10 million.
When asked if the Brandon Sun could see the engineering report, Eden said it had not been finalized yet, and they based their analysis on a number of inspection results over the past few years.
Premier Greg Selinger made the announcement about the urgent need to overhaul the First Street bridge when he was in Brandon on Thursday.
"It’s important to do it now from a straight engineering point of view," Selinger said before telling reporters the Daly Overpass expansion will come after the First Street bridge is completed.
The news came as a surprise to Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, city manager Scott Hildebrand and Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell.
Patrick Pulak, the city’s director of engineering, said the information about the First Street bridge "came out of the blue" for the city.
"I was certainly surprised that this was as critical as it was made out to be," Pulak said. "We’re certainly in communication with MIT on a regular basis, and to be honest I’d never heard anything about First Street being on their list of items they want to take care of."
For many months, the city has been lobbying for the Daly Overpass expansion, to ease the bottleneck situation that happens when 18th Street goes from four lanes to three lanes.
Now, it seems that project won’t be starting for at least a few years.
"Having that vehicle traffic flowing smoothly is extremely important, and the bottleneck on 18th is very frustrating," city manager Scott Hildebrand said. "We need to do something maybe in the short term on 18th Street to try to minimize that impact of the bottleneck."
Hildebrand said even though the First Street bridge "hasn’t been on our radar," they support the recommendation from the province.
"Any upgrades and infrastructure investment in Brandon … is welcomed," he said. "So if that is the priority, based on technical advice, then that’s what we’ll do as a city, and then we’ll continue to push our agenda to get 18th Street looked after in the near future."
Brandon West Progressive Conservative MLA Reg Helwer criticized the province for lack of communication with the City of Brandon.
"They have all these communicators but they only serve to spin the message, not to get the real deal out there," Helwer said.
Helwer said the issue with the First Street bridge "highlights the province’s lack of maintenance of Manitoba’s infrastructure."
Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire said it was "unfortunate timing" for the premier to make the announcement, as earlier in the day Maguire toured Peter Braid, parliamentary secretary for infrastructure, around Brandon’s top infrastructure priorities, which included the airport and the Daly Overpass.
"There’s opportunities there to work together in the future, and if (First Street bridge) is a priority of the province and the city, then we’ll work forward with those plans when we see them," he said.
Eden says the First Street bridge, which was built in 1972, has had ongoing maintenance over the past decade, but within the past two years it has been identified as needing a major rehabilitation.
"It’s been in our program for probably the last two to three years for the engineering side of it," she said.
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