The erection last week of large barricades on either end of the Peel Street bridge saw an immediate backlash from Winterbourne residents, who very quickly expressed their displeasure to Woolwich officials.
The steel panels were welded into place, making the bridge completely impassable.
The structure was closed to all traffic in 2017 due to safety concerns, but pedestrians have continued to cross it. Concerned about liability issues, particularly as vehicles have also used the bridge, sabotaging the previous barriers, the township wanted to make sure that was no longer possible, explained Jared Puppe, Woolwich’s director of infrastructure services.
“We have experienced recent vandalism on the Peel Street bridge, where someone had cut the lock from the gate and drove across the bridge. We appreciate that the barricades are not very popular [with] some in the community, unfortunately, we do live in a litigious world and they are required to protect the ratepayers and organization from known violations and any potential claims,” he said in an email.
Acknowledging the negative feedback, Puppe stressed the barricades are temporary, to be kept in place until the bridge is rehabilitated for pedestrian use, which was council’s decision about the fate of the century-old span.
Residents decried the closure, in particular the unsightly method they say spoils the historic structure. Many had some sport with the situation, circulating photos of a fully laden pickup truck parked on the bridge as workers welded in place the heavy steel plates.
“You’re concerned about pedestrians walking safely across this bridge so you’re having it blocked off? Do pedestrians weigh two tons?” resident Judi Poll asked township officials in an email that included a photo of the work in progess.
“I mean, you DID tell the contractor why he’s been contracted to block the bridge, correct?”
Puppe noted neither the short-term parking of a truck nor the added weight of the barricades is an issue.
“While the bridge has been deemed unsafe for public access, we are not aware of any immediate structural issue that would cause the bridge to collapse.”
In an email to some of the residents, engineering project supervisor Ryan Tucker responded to the installation issue.
“I appreciate your continued concern for the Peel Street bridge. Staff were aware of the contractor accessing the structure in order to install the barricades and felt that the short duration access was warranted and the bridge was safe to complete the work. The other option that staff explored was to remove the existing bridge deck instead of installing the barricades. The deck removal was the more expensive option and also had the potential to accelerate the deterioration of the structure by exposing the beams under the deck to the elements. The barricades will be removed once the rehabilitation work commences and should not have any lasting effect on the existing structure,” he wrote.
Installing the barricades cost $15,000.
The township will be taking similar action on Middlebrook Place on the border with Centre Wellington Township, where another old steel bridge has been closed since 2004.
“Staff are planning to install the same barricade system and ‘no trespassing’ signage on the Middlebrook Place structure, as well, to prevent the public from accessing the closed bridge,” said Puppe.