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A new bridge for Winterbourne?

If there’s to be span crossing the Grand River at Winterbourne, it’ll likely be a new bridge, with Woolwich councillors seeming less inclined to spend money on the century-old Peel Street structure now in place.

The current bridge has been closed since 2017 because its deteriorating condition was deemed unsafe. Engineering staff have recommended making the closure permanent, with demolition down the road. That idea has met with resistance from residents, who last week called on council to reopen the bridge, citing the township’s limited investment in Winterbourne and the need for a connecting link for the Mennonites in the area who rely on horse-drawn buggies.

Continuing that discussion Tuesday night, councillors appeared to be leaning toward maintaining the crossing, with a new bridge deemed a more cost-effective option.

Rehabilitating the 1913 steel truss structure to carry vehicles would cost about $1.6 million, while repairing it to carry just foot traffic would be about $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, explained Ryan Tucker, an engineering project supervisor with the township.

Building a new one-lane bridge would cost about $4 million, while a two-lane span would ring in at about $5.5 million.

Coun. Murray Martin argued it would be better to build a new bridge rather than spending money on a short-term solution reopening the current structure.

“Why in the world would we spend $3.5 million and hope to get 30 years out of a bridge when it’s not likely that we will, when we could spend $4 million and have a bridge for a hundred years?”

Whether restoring the current bridge or building a new one, a key issue will be preventing heavy vehicles from using the bridge.

As with other old steel bridges in the township, particularly the one on Glasgow Street in Conestogo, efforts to keep the structures in good repair are made more difficult by overloading as people cross with prohibited heavy vehicles, noted director of infrastructure services Jared Puppe.

“These structures were not intended to see the traffic that they see today.”

In response to a question from Coun. Larry Shantz about restoring the bridge simply for use by pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles, Tucker noted some people would continue to cross the bridge illegally if given the chance.

“If there’s an opportunity for them to get across it, unfortunately they seem to take it,” he said, adding there’s no safe way to keep the bridge open for horse-drawn buggies and not cars.

“We don’t see a way to keep the bridge open for horse and buggy without allowing vehicles,” said Tucker. “There’s just no safe way to stop vehicles from using the bridge if we do allow horse and buggies, unfortunately.”

Pointing to the fact there’s likely to be gravel pit operation on a nearby Peel Street property, Shantz said even a new bridge should be built to discourage truck traffic, suggesting a one-lane option would probably work better in that regard while reducing the cost.

While traffic volume has typically been low – 2013 numbers showed the bridge saw about 125 vehicles per day, 11 per cent of which were buggies – the bridge serves the Old Order Mennonites who are currently having to use a lengthy detour, said Martin, calling for an increased infrastructure levy to help fund a new bridge.

“There’s only one scenario. That is tear down the old bridge, build something new that the Mennonites can use, that they’ve asked for,” he said, saying he wouldn’t support rehabilitating the existing structure.

“At the end of the day, we’ve still got junk.”

Staff intends to bring a final recommendation report back to council December 15.

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