“Those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it.”
— Edmund Burke
Should our civic leaders decide to replace the Eighth Street bridge and make it roadworthy for vehicle traffic, or keep a pedestrian connection on Eighth Street across the railway tracks instead?
How important is having the Eighth Street bridge as a connection between the north and south ends of the city? And considering cost is always a concern, do we go with the cheapest option, whatever that may be?
These questions eerily mirror those previously faced by Brandon city councillors in the late 1960s and early ’70s when council of the day was under pressure to address the then-crumbling Eighth Street bridge.
Of course, the nitty-gritty details are a little different.
In September 1967, according to our news archives, city council formed a committee to begin studying proposals to replace the Eighth Street bridge after engineers found the structure unsound, and that “the cost of putting the structure back into shape to provide adequate structural capacity for redecking would be prohibitive.”
The old bridge was made of two portions — again, all too familiar — one of cement, and the other of wrought iron. The iron bridge was built in 1885 and used as a railway bridge until 1904, when it was moved to Eighth Street and linked to the cement portion of the bridge.
“In later years, the iron bridge was in such bad condition that it was costing the city too much money to maintain,” the Sun wrote on Dec. 23, 1968 — the day after the inauguration of the new Eighth Street bridge, which we currently have.
The city’s engineer had recommended that council consider a new location for the bridge on the basis of “present and future traffic requirements,” and ruled out an option that council had been considering — replacing the wrought iron bridge at the Eighth Street location, to the tune of $251,700.
“He pointed out that the expenditure would provide an overpass of which half would be able to carry present traffic loads and the other half 1935 traffic loads.
“Added to these disadvantages, the plan would provide a structure ‘the south half of which is esthetically pleasing and the north half which is a jumbled mass of concrete columns, bracing and stairways.’”
The First Street bridge of the day was also crumbling and in desperate need of replacement — and the provincial government had been slow to tell the city when or how it would be replaced. One of the options on the table included scrapping both the First Street and Eighth Street bridges, and building one new structure somewhere in between. But that was deemed too expensive, and would bring too much traffic to the city’s downtown.
Ironically, the proposal ultimately chosen by council was “the cheapest of four alternatives” given to the special bridge committee for consideration by the engineering department — the same one pooh-poohed earlier. The reason for the council’s choice was simple — it met available finances, and getting the Eighth Street bridge up and usable as quickly as possible addressed the urgent need for a bridge to link north and south Brandon. At the time, First Street did not connect north and south Brandon.
“None of us like patchwork, but we have come to the conclusion this is the only thing that has to be done,” Ald. Marie Kotyk said during a special council meeting on Feb. 5, 1968. “It is surely time we did something.”
But there was opposition to the plan on council. Ald. H.H. Nikkel registered his disapproval, saying he did not think the decision was fair to the citizens of Brandon.
Nikkel referenced the concrete viaduct portion at the north end of the bridge, which was not to be replaced — and which is still in use today — and asked: “What do we do when the concrete crumbles in another 30 years?”
Now, in 2014, council once again must consider what to do with the Eighth Street bridge, and also begin thinking of renovations to the First Street bridge structure, with the Daly Overpass bottleneck on 18th Street an added headache.
If there is something to take away from the historical record, we suggest it’s that council must take the time to get it right, and in so doing, plan properly for Brandon’s future with an eye to connections between the northern and southern portions of our city.
That said, we do note that city councillors back in the ’60s and ’70s did one thing right in how the bridge construction was financed. The cost of the bridge was shared by the city, the Canadian Transport Commission, the provincial department of highways and the Canadian Pacific Railway, which paid $43,000 toward the construction of the bridge because it was in the company’s best interest to do so.
The height of the bridge was raised to allow clearance for freight trains, and a footpath on the bridge was constructed to end the need for people to cross the tracks directly.
And there’s another lesson in that — are there other partners the city could team up with in modern times to ease the bridge burden on taxpayers? Has anyone even asked?