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Bridging the matter

We’d be surprised if too many Westman residents cross the Red River at St. Jean Baptiste on a regular basis.

But if there are any of you out there, be advised you’ll have to detour through Morris or Dominion City.

St. Jean Baptiste’s 65-year-old bridge was dynamited on Saturday, leaving the community as the only one south of Winnipeg without a Red River crossing.

Despite having survived floods in 1950, 1999 and 2011, the bridge succumbed to dry weather last summer. The river’s banks contracted and then a rainstorm in the fall caused the banks to slide. The riverbank soil slid into the bridge’s piers and destabilized them.

Witnesses parked their snowmobiles and four-by-fours at viewing areas set up to the north and south of the bridge to take in the implosion. About 200 people were there to see the blast —a two-second bang that lingered a little longer as it echoed up and down the river.

But as fast as it can be to destroy a bridge, Manitobans have been recently reminded that it takes a lot longer to build one.

Citizens of St. Jean Baptiste have been told they will hear in April, at the earliest, if the provincial government plans to replace the bridge at all.

We wonder what the estimated completion date will be given as.

After all, residents near Coulter won’t have a new bridge until November — more than two years after the 2011 flood that buckled it. And that’s on a fast-tracked schedule.

Normally, bridges take five years to build, Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton claimed last year, when he announced the $10-million “fast-tracking” at Coulter.

Well, that must be the new normal.

Remember the Thompson Bridge debacle? We do and all too clearly. When it was first announced, ahead of the 2007 election, it was supposed to be done by 2009. Only one span was completed by that date, of course. Both spans finally opened a full year after that, in September 2010. And it has been closed regularly ever since, as crews repair sagging approaches and dips in the pavement. The latest is that pedestrian walkway lights won’t be switched back on until 2014.

We’re also still waiting to hear from the city exactly what’s planned for the Eighth Street Bridge. Just as the Thompson Bridge finally opened, city council was told that the steep and narrow and very old Eighth Street Bridge might be replaced by this year.

This year, of course, that has now slipped to next year. (If you’d like a bit of a chortle, check out the project website at 8thstreetbridge.com, which doesn’t appear to have been updated since last March. Even then, it wasn’t daring to predict a construction date.)

Going by Ashton-style timelines, we wouldn’t be surprised to be waiting until 2015.

And, of course, the province says it won’t budge on the 18th Street bottleneck that is the Daly Overpass until it can route traffic over the city’s new bridge. Perhaps this is because the decaying First Street Bridge couldn’t handle the extra load?

And let’s not even get started on the dozens of other bridges in Westman that require major repairs or replacement after the 2011 flooding. That work could take years.

All-in-all, we’d be ready to wish the townspeople of St. Jean Baptiste good luck in getting a new bridge. We’ve all been there.

That would be that, if it weren’t for the news out of Winnipeg just a couple of months ago.

The Disraeli Bridge, one of that city’s main links across the Red River, opened to traffic in October. The next month, it was in the news again — it had received an award.

For being completed on time and on budget.

Now that’s an award we’d love to give out.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 20, 2013

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We’d be surprised if too many Westman residents cross the Red River at St. Jean Baptiste on a regular basis.

But if there are any of you out there, be advised you’ll have to detour through Morris or Dominion City.

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We’d be surprised if too many Westman residents cross the Red River at St. Jean Baptiste on a regular basis.

But if there are any of you out there, be advised you’ll have to detour through Morris or Dominion City.

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