We find ourselves in agreement with Coun. Murray Blight (Victoria) who recently suggested the aging Eighth Street bridge should be closed to vehicle traffic and become a pedestrian-only structure.
And until Tuesday we would have asserted that such a plan should only be considered until after the completion of the Daly Overpass conversion to four lanes along 18th Street — a project that may not be in the works for a few more years for all we know.
But on Tuesday afternoon, a garbage truck bashed into one of the bridge’s crossbeams along Assiniboine Avenue, which prompted the city to close the bridge indefinitely to both vehicular and pedestrian traffic until a Winnipeg engineering firm assesses the damage.
That will apparently happen later today, if the weather co-operates.
We can only guess what a structural engineer will say about the bridge — it could be closed for several more weeks or even months until repairs are done, if repairs are even possible or cost-effective. Or, less likely, it could open again tomorrow if given the green light.
Notwithstanding Tuesday’s closure of the bridge, previously considered options for reconstruction of the structure as envisioned by Dillan Consulting would be extremely expensive to carry out, likely beyond the means of city council to pay for it without access to outside funding.
The bridge options that were initially outlined in a preliminary design report in 2012 — which included rehabilitating the bridge, rebuilding the bridge in the same location, angling the bridge so that it lines up with Ninth Street and relocating the bridge so it lined up with Fifth Street — have been seemingly dismissed by council, as it searches for alternatives like the pedestrian bridge solution.
Rather than saddle Brandon taxpayers and the provincial government with the huge financial burden of repairing the Eighth Street bridge — option price tags range from $20 million to $34 million — it makes much more economic sense to preserve the bridge for pedestrian use if possible, as it ties into the riverbank walkways, and would still allow residents on the north side of the railway limited access to the city’s downtown.
Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst told the Sun that the main priority is to get First Street and 18th Street bridges functioning at maximum capacity, with the Eighth Street bridge being looked at as a secondary bridge.
“It was felt that the investment would be better made with a higher rate of return on the 18th Street bridge,” she said.
That makes good financial sense. But the unforeseen closure of the Eighth Street bridge has now caused considerable inconvenience to Brandon motorists. As the Sun reported yesterday, approximately 3,500 vehicles per day normally cross the Eighth Street bridge, according to a traffic count conducted by Dillan Consulting in 2011.
And that will only have put added pressure on 18th Street’s three-lane bottleneck at the Daly Overpass. For the time being, the provincial government has committed to upgrades on the Daly Overpass, in partnership with the city, but the timeline on that construction remains vague. At the very least, it will not begin this year.
We suggest that council should prod the province to expedite remediation plans on the Daly Overpass as a result, especially if the Eighth Street bridge remains closed.
As well, if the city has to pay a substantial fee to repair the Eighth Street bridge after its recent closure, our council will have to look at a more permanent solution than a simple repair job. We expect councillors will have to address the situation much sooner than they expected to.
In our opinion, it’s also time for city officials to begin official discussions regarding future access north-south access routes on the west side of the city. That could include the viability of construction of an underpass underneath the railway tracks on 26th Street, as an example.
For a growing city like Brandon, having only two unobstructed north-south arterial routes, even with an upgraded Daly Overpass, will simply not be enough down the road.