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This article was published 27/9/2011 (3595 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Residents in southwestern Manitoba’s oil patch communities should not be left to languish for years with a broken bridge and compromised safety.
That’s what provincial election candidates in the constituency of Arthur-Virden were told on Tuesday morning when about 200 people showed up at a rally at the site of a broken bridge that spans the Souris River on Highway 251 near the communities of Coulter and Waskada.
The bridge, located about 11 kilometres from Waskada and two and half kilometres from Coulter, was closed early this summer when the flood waters of the Souris River eroded some of the roadbed and the pavement, creating a buckle in the middle of the structure.
Though department officials pledged to begin its repair when the flood waters receded, the bridge remains closed to vehicle traffic while pedestrians can cross at their own risk.
Commuter traffic and school buses have been forced to detour on a shared dirt road with farm machinery and heavy oil trucks. Alternatively, people in the area must travel all the way north to Melita and then head back south.
Rally organizer Shirley Kernaghan says they are demanding whichever party forms government on Oct. 4 to immediately address the unusable bridge.
"We’re not asking for the moon here," she said. "With the amount of money that goes out of these three municipalities (because of the oil industry), we should be able to get some brought back into it to fix this bridge."
Because they’ve been told by provincial department officials that replacing the bridge may take anywhere from two to four years, the communities would like the next government to either fast track its repair or help them with funding the installation of a temporary bridge over the river to take on light vehicle traffic — something experts say can be done quickly this fall for about $250,000.
"It’s a metal structure, a Bailey bridge, that would be put up in panels," Kernaghan said. "It’s self-supporting and we may have to put some pilings down — but not into the river because then we don’t have to deal with the (Department of Fisheries and Oceans). The bridge could be here in a day and could be up in three days."
The affected municipalities — the RMs of Edward, Arthur and Brenda — could also look to the oil companies in the area for financial support, she said.
However, if the next provincial government doesn’t immediately chip in and the uncrossable river remains that way for any longer than it has to be, Kernaghan fears the communities of Waskada and Coulter will be irreversibly affected, both from an economic standpoint and one of public safety.
"The people on the west side (of the bridge) aren’t supporting the people on the east side because of the distance that they have to go," she said. "Also, we don’t want any of our children hurt and it’s probably going to happen. Then the government is going to say, ‘Oh no, we should have done something.’"
Waskada resident Kevin Gardiner says his family has already been affected with a "close call" because of the bridge closure.
One evening earlier this summer, his son and one of his son’s friends were in a motorcycle accident as they left the bridge’s east side after fishing near the river. Emergency responders attended to the scene, but were dispatched to the west side of the bridge instead.
By walking across the bridge, emergency personnel were able to quickly attend to both boys, who were not seriously injured, while their rescue vehicles detoured and met them on the east side.
While he’s thankful the boys’ injuries were not life-threatening, Gardiner said he’d hate to think what could have happened in a more serious scenario where each minute counted.
"If you were talking minutes, that would have been a big issue that night ," he said. "Even if a fire was to happen, you know you’re dealing in minutes."
Larry Maguire, the Progressive Conservative candidate in the area, attended yesterday’s rally and said he would push to make the bridge a Conservative government’s No.1 priority.
"I know the importance of the infrastructure on that particular road and we’ve got an oil industry that the NDP are not supporting down there," Maguire said.
"They’re putting lots of money back into the coffers of Manitoba and getting very little in return for it."
Fast-tracked construction of the bridge could be complete by next spring, Maguire suggested, not the two to four years being stated by the NDP. He said he favoured that option to contributing cash to a temporary bridge installation.
NDP candidate Garry Draper also attended the rally and agreed that the bridge repair or replacement should be fast-tracked immediately following next week’s election.
However, he disputes that it was NDP neglect that led to its closure.
"There was dozens of bridges that failed all over the countryside. I don’t think you can point a finger and say it was neglect, it was just an unprecedented amount of water," Draper said.
"I think the key here is that we have to learn what happened and try to minimize it so that it doesn’t happen in the future."
While Winnipeg-based Liberal candidate Murray Cliff did not attend the rally due to work commitments, he told the Sun he would also push for improvements on the bridge.
However, he hinted that after Oct. 4, it will likely be "Maguire’s commitment to keep."