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Woolwich wants alternatives to demolishing Peel Street bridge

Feeling unappreciated and underserved by the township, Winterbourne residents may have won some support in their bid to reopen the old Peel Street bridge.

A recommendation that the century structure remain closed with an eye on future demolition failed to get the backing of councillors meeting by videoconference Tuesday night. Instead, some around the virtual table appeared willing to look at options that would restore the river crossing.

Built in 1913, the bridge is in bad shape and has been closed since 2017, said Ryan Tucker, an engineering project supervisor with the township. When it comes to potentially reopening it, cost is the biggest factor, as a report commissioned by the township estimates it would cost $1.6 million to rehabilitate the rare steel truss bridge for vehicular traffic. Maintaining it simply for pedestrian use would cost $1.1 million. In both cases, another $1.1 million in 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.

Village residents, however, called on council to find a way to reopen and maintain the bridge, with delegates suggesting Winterbourne hasn’t received much in the way of support from the township.

“We are the forgotten part of the township. Unlike the other townships, we  have no parks, playgrounds, tennis courts, basketball nets, baseball diamonds, skate parks, splash pads, swimming pools, skating rinks, community centres, or libraries. Most of the town doesn’t have sidewalks, so it’s not even safe for our kids to walk or bike to their friend’s, especially along Katherine Street. All we have is a bridge. We use that bridge for swimming, canoeing, fishing, biking,” said resident Kim Hodgson in a statement.

“There has not been an investment in Winterbourne that I can see,” she said, saying the historic bridge is the one thing the village does have. “It’s part of our community. We love it.”

“We feel like the runt of the litter because we’re given so few resources,” added Michelle Miller

Resident Tracy Macdonald argued that keeping the bridge open is about more than just recreation, but a matter of safe access. The Peel Street route would provide a safer conduit, a better alternative to Katherine Street with truck traffic and speeding cars.

She said the recommendation to remove the bridge was “dismissive” and showed “a true lack of empathy.”

Cindy Weber, meanwhile, said the route should be reopened to provide a more direct route for Old Order Mennonites who use horse-drawn buggies.

“The preferred solution is a new pedestrian/buggy bridge.”

Coun. Murray Martin agreed the township should do something for the community, noting he’d previously suggested staff look at funding the work through an increased infrastructure levy and borrowing to cover the costs.

The value proposition would be to build a new bridge, perhaps using portions of the existing structure, he said, noting the Old Order members pay taxes yet use very few of the township’s services and amenities.

“We owe them something. I think we owe it to them to give them something they need – that’s a new bridge.”

Coun. Patrick Merlihan concurred that the township should look at providing “some sort of structure for the residents.”

Rather than support the staff recommendation that would lead to the bridge’s removal, councillors sent staff in search of alternatives, with another report expected later on.

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