An audience of about 50 was in attendance last Monday night at Magaguadavic Place in St. George to learn about the fate of the Lower South Street Bridge at a meeting held by St. George Council. Local MLA, Andrea Anderson-Mason was there to speak and answer questions, along with senior staff members from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure to give updates on the status of the 109 year old bridge.
Anderson-Mason said there has been a “lot of talk about the bridge”, and called it an “issue of frustration” for herself. She remembers the bridge from her childhood, and said she finds it frustrating to see it “fall into such disrepair”.
Anderson-Mason highlighted what she saw as the main issues surrounding the bridge and it’s reconstruction. First, it is a safety concern. The second point is the appearance. Originally, the plan had been to install a steel bailey bridge, which is functional, but unattractive. This is not something that is going to attract tourism, and she said the existing bridge must be repaired rather than replaced.
“The bridge is an iconic landmark. It must be preserved,” said Anderson-Mason.
Another point Anderson-Mason discussed was infrastructure. She understands something must be done to preserve the bridge, but at the same time, it has to be affordable. Her last point was functionality. She said whether it is a walking or driving bridge, only that it is functional and safe. Obviously, residents would prefer that it be a drivable bridge.
Anderson-Mason said, “We need to come up with something safe, attractive, affordable, and meets the needs of residents.”
Initially, it was decided a replacement bridge was needed, and a single-lane bailey bridge with an attached walkway was decided upon. The contract for the new bridge was awarded by the Province on November 9, 2018, and the materials and components for the new bridge arrived the following January. Now, this bridge is not going to be utilized, and members of council and residents alike are wondering why funds were wasted on a bridge that is not going to be constructed.
“This is disappointing,” said Mayor Crystal Cook in a press release. “A replacement bridge was purchased by the Province and project timelines were set. Now the Province is planning to simply repair a century old steel bridge and do some minor painting.”
Cook also wonders why, if the bridge is safe and functional, these conversations started in the first place.
“I feel we have just wasted time, years of meetings, to end up where we started,” said Cook.
Serge Gagnon, Executive Director of Engineering for the DTI was on hand to tell council and residents about the new plan to repair the existing bridge rather than install the steel Bailey bridge. He said even though the new bridge was purchased, it is still going to be less expensive to repair the old bridge. The installation of a new bridge would be more expensive than repairs and upkeep, even with what has already been spent. He also said a bailey bridge is unattractive, and not conducive to tourism. The replacement project had been in the budget, but Gagnon said, “From a fiscal reality, this (repairs) is the best option.
“A bailey bridge is functional, but not aesthetically pleasing,” he said, adding the department looked at several different options. “We looked at a pedestrian only bridge. Then we looked at a modular bridge with a pedestrian option.”
Many residents in attendance were angry so much money has been spent on a bridge that is not going to be used. They also asked if a long-term strategy for the upkeep of the bridge was in place, as well as whether or not it will be a single or double lane. One of the biggest concerns is safety, and many residents, along with Anderson-Mason, said too many people speed through the area. Many feel that a single lane bridge is the best option, because it will force drivers to slow down.
Another concern is weight restriction. At the moment, emergency vehicles cannot cross the bridge because of the weight restriction. One resident said the bailey bridge may not look as nice, but it would allow for emergency vehicles. The repairs are not going to change the weight restrictions already in place, allowing for a maximum weight of 12 tons and a maximum height of 3.4 meters.
Gagnon said they chose to repair the existing bridge because it is “unique to the province”. The plan for the bridge is to repair it for safety, replace the sidewalk, replace the bridge deck, and repaint. He hopes to tender in the summer so the work can get underway in the fall. When asked how long the repairs would last, Gagnon said about 10 years. This is another issue with residents and council, and they worry about additional expenses in the future. Gagnon said this is not something they should worry about.
“There is always a bit of a risk,” said Gagnon. “We wouldn’t recommend repairs if it wasn’t viable.”
Once the bridge repairs begin in the fall, members of town council say they will “continue to monitor developments specific to municipal services”, which include water and sewage that are attached under the bridge, and interruptions and changes to traffic.
The Province of New Brunswick is paying the full cost for the bridge repairs, with no cost to the Town of St. George and its residents. There were concerns about the work staying local, and residents were assured that the tender will stay in New Brunswick.