Brandon’s city council, led by Mayor Rick Chrest, has again cleaned up a mess left by its predecessors by voting almost unanimously to tear down the outdated and downright dangerous Eighth Street Bridge.
It wasn’t an easy decision. But council made the correct move at its regular April 4 meeting.
As I wrote in my April 3 column, given the costs involved to repair or replace the largely neighbourhood bridge for vehicular traffic, the only prudent decision was to tear the 82-year-old structure down.
I think my views on onside with the vast majority of Brandon taxpayers.
To recap, Patrick Pulak, the city’s director of engineering services and water resources, stated in his report to council since the bridge was been closed last July there haven’t been any traffic problems.
States Pulak: “By all appearances, the citizens have adjusted accordingly with little or no impact to traffic in the area, and service is certainly within acceptable levels.”
I’ve included a table of the options council had to choose from. To replace the bridge with a new one for vehicles would place an onerous burden on the city’s finances and would result in some pretty serious tax increases for everyone — including those living in the North End which the bridge serviced. It would also require expropriation and demolition of several homes and businesses on both sides of the CP Rail yards (which is five tracks wide at that site).
Doing some temporary repairs would be throwing good money after bad. That would be the type of decision made by previous administrations.
The bridge will come down. Then the city’s administration is to engage CP Rail, the Province of Manitoba, and the Government of Canada as potential funding partners to explore options for an active transportation/pedestrian connection in the vicinity of Eighth Street to serve as a continued north-south corridor for the City of Brandon.
Now that’s going to be something that taxpayers should press council on during next year’s budget debate, as there are currently no funds for that project. And it has to be built sooner than later both to serve the folks of the North End (also called The Flats) and to to serve as a key link in the city’s north/south active transportation corridor.
Not to mention, that it really is just a matter of time before a trespasser making a short-cut over what will be fenced-off CP Rail tracks will be injured or killed.
I was at the council meeting, where there were maybe 25 concerned people in the gallery who wanted a stay of execution for the overpass. Former Rosser Ward city councillor Corey Roberts had previously presented council with a 2,300-signature petition calling for a new vehicular bridge.
Hmm. And of the couple of dozen people who showed up for what was billed as a “rally,” only one took the opportunity during Community Question Period to speak in favour of repairing or replacing the bridge. I’ve included a photo of many of the bridge proponents, taken just after the 9-1 vote to demolish the bridge was made.
Once the Daly Overpass on 18th Street is rebuilt into a four-lane bridge, access into the North End will be even easier than it is now. It has been reported that the two-year Daly project will begin after the current replacement of the First Street Bridge is complete.
Pulak told council “it would be overkill to have a third bridge between First and 18th streets.”
By the way, who or what will the new First Street bridges be named after? I recall few people knew the 18th Street railway bridge was actually named the Daly Overpass until I assigned a reporter to look into it years ago when I was at the Brandon Sun. Then signs were posted, post haste. But I digress.
I think it would be also be overkill if I wrote any more about the issue. But I was struck by the passionate and sincere comments made by many councillors before the vote.
Coun. Kris Desjarlais (Rosser) served his constituents well by arguing for remediation of the current bridge at least until the Daly Overpass is rebuilt. Then re-examine the issue at that time. He was the only dissenting vote.
Said Desjarlais: “This has been far and away I think the most challenging decision we’ve had to make as city council. I think the city and residents need to know how much time and effort went into this. It has not been a willy-nilly decision. I’m worried and I think it could be a mistake not to rehabilitate that bridge for vehicular traffic for the next three to five years for vehicles not knowing what type of congestion could have on 18th Street during the time it’s getting rebuilt. I think we’re rolling the dice. I think this council could end up regretting this decision in a big way.
Coun. Jeff Fawcett (Assiniboine): “The deterioration of that bridge is ramping up so fast, even with rehabilitation, it might not make it through. We’ve had so many discussions on it and so much information … I hope the public and those who are here understand it’s been diligently looked at. I do think we want to make sure that neighbourhood feels as included as we believe they are in the city.”
Coun. Jeff Harwood (University): “I know the residents of Brandon are not going to want to shoulder $35 million for (a new) bridge. We’re going to take flak for this, but this is why we’re sitting here. There are times where we have to make a difficult decision.”
Coun. Lonnie Patterson (South Centre): “About the rehab option … I don’t buy for a second that a rehabilitation will only cost $1.3 million. Moving forward with an active transportation way is fine for the future of the city.”
Coun. Shawn Berry (Linden Lanes): “This is not an easy decision for any of us. We’ve asked 100 questions and received 100 answers. I just don’t have a good feeling in my gut on what this bridge would cost is we tried to rehabilitate it. This bridge debate has gone on for long enough.”
Coun. Barry Cullen (Victoria): “I know that Councillor Desjarlais has been put in a terrible position, being that this is in his ward. And I do feel for the people who went across that bridge, I was one of them for 25 years twice a day.”
Coun. Jan Chaboyer (Green Acres): “I think (now) we will be even more aware of what’s happening to the people of the North End and we are going to enhance your neighbourhood even more. We are going to ensure when we make this new … corridor that we will do so with enhancements that are acceptable to the people over there.”
Mayor Chrest: “In the year and a half that I have been mayor, I know there has not been another file or another issue that has occupied more of my time. Frankly, trying to find a magic bullet on this issue … there is no easy answer. Bricks and mortar is one thing, but it really comes down to people, and I think this council has all demonstrated (the impact of this decision on) … the people of the North End. But we also have to be mindful of the people of the entire city and their ability to shoulder financial expenses.”