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Elmira
Friday, November 15, 2019
Connecting Our Communities

Winterbourne residents petition council to save Peel St. bridge

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Winterbourne residents are pushing to have the Peel Street bridge retained for pedestrian traffic at a minimum, this week presenting a petition to Woolwich council calling for a more fulsome review of the options.

A report commissioned by the township recommends the permanent closure of the century-old steel-truss span, though a formal report from planning staff isn’t expected until the fall. Even the suggestion of decommissioning the bridge doesn’t sit well with residents, however.

Council chambers were packed with residents eager to hear about the fate of the bridge, as well as a later discussion about a gravel pit proposed for a Peel Street property.

Winterbourne’s Ron Craig addressed the issues raised by the petition signed by more than 175 residents.

“It’s a  petition signed by almost every adult in the village,” he noted.

He called for more analysis of options for the bridge, as well as more consultation with the Old Order Mennonite community. In a presentation to council, he made a case for keeping the bridge open, if only for recreational use, pointing out that Winterbourne is a low-cost community when it comes to the township given the lack of facilities and services.

The historical value of the bridge and the prospect of a cultural heritage landscape designation for the bridge and the surrounding Winterbourne valley should also be taken into account, Craig suggested, calling for “longer-term thinking.”

Coun. Murray Martin took issue with claims the Old Order Mennonite community had not been consulted, noting he twice circulated some 100 comment sheets in the community. The group was also well represented at a public meeting.

He noted that members of the community asked to “keep the process respectful,” adding they told him “we will speak for ourselves.”

Martin’s comments were echoed by Dan Kennaley, the township’s director of engineering and planning services. He, too, noted there has been extensive consultation, including holding two public meetings instead of just one, as required.

Likewise, there have been many groups involved in the process, he added.

Still, low traffic volumes on the bridge prior to its closure – about 125 vehicles per day, with 11 per cent of that attributed to horse-drawn buggies – and the cost of rehabilitation are factors at play, Kennaley noted.

Outside of permanent closure, options include some kind of pedestrian use, he said, pointing to a conversion project in Guelph as an example.

“We’re looking at doing something similar with the Peel Street bridge.”

In response to Coun. Scott McMillan’s question about the possibility of Old Order Mennonites helping to repair the bridge, as was the case in 2001, Kennaley noted there are legal issues and liabilities to consider. Unlike past work on the deck, the problem areas are the steel trusses and girders that form the underpinning of the bridge.

“It’s unlikely that local help will be … sufficient.”

As for costs, the pedestrian option alone would run $750,000 to $1.2 million, he said. “It’s a substantial amount of money.”

Kennaley noted that rehabilitating the bridge for pedestrian use would not allow for buggy traffic; the cost of bringing it up to that standard would be almost as much as restoring it for vehicle use, which was estimated at up to $1.6 million.

A cost breakdown in the study, completed as part of an environmental assessment, paints an expensive picture of reopening the bridge. In the case of either vehicular or just pedestrian traffic, both of which come with an immediate expense, upwards of another million of today’s dollars would have to be spent in 2040, followed by $700,000 to demolish the bridge when it comes to the end of its lifespan in 2050.

Replacing the bridge with a new one comes with a projected cost of $5.5 million.

Simply closing the bridge and leaving it in place would cost $475,000, with another $150,000 by 2040 and the demolition costs in 2050. Keeping the bridge maintains its heritage qualities and leaves future administrations with options down the line.

Along with the Peel Street bridge, the township is looking at old steel-truss bridges on Middlebrook Road and Glasgow Street, with preliminary reports recommending closure of the former and rehabilitating the latter, which sees the highest volume of traffic.

Kennaley said he expects a report on each of the three steel truss bridges to come this year, staring with the Glasgow Street structure in June and the other two in the fall.

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