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Peel Street bridge could reopen as early as next year

Winterbourne’s Peel Street bridge could be reopened to pedestrian traffic as early as next year under a plan approved this week by Woolwich council.

The goal is to have the engineering work done this year, with construction on the structure carried out in 2022.

The decision Tuesday night follows up on council’s earlier decision that rehabilitation as a pedestrian crossing was the best fate for the historic steel bridge. Other options on the table included removal, rehabilitation for vehicular traffic or replacement with a new span that would be open to all traffic.

Originally leaning towards a new bridge, councillors eventually opted for the pedestrian-only option, though with no timeframe specified for the work. A motion from Mayor Sandy Shantz proposed speeding up the process in order to reopen the bridge as soon as possible.

“Let’s get on with it,” she said.

The issue revisited, Coun. Larry Shantz instead called for council to reject its previous decision in favour of building a new bridge to accommodate vehicular traffic. He argued the rehabilitation project wasn’t the best use of funds.

“It’s short-term thinking,” he said, noting the repairs would keep the bridge passable for only a few more decades. “It is a Band-aid solution, at best.”

If the goal is to rehabilitate the bridge to last just another 20 years, the township might as well remove it now, he argued.

Coun. Murray Martin supported his fellow Ward 3 councillor’s position.

“I think we’re making a poor decision,” he said of plans to rehabilitate the bridge for pedestrian use, adding the decision ignores those who want a bridge to carry vehicular traffic, including the Mennonite community.

But others on council weren’t willing to go down that road. Coun. Scott McMillan noted council had already made its decision about the fate of the bridge, with the evening’s discussion about moving up the timeline, not revisiting the issue.

“This is a responsible way forward,” he said, noting the decision is in line with the feedback council received from Winterbourne residents.

Coun. Patrick Merlihan concurred, noting residents had made their desires clear. He also dismissed the rehabilitation project as a short-term fix, noting the door is open to continuing to maintain the bridge for years to come.

“This is a bridge I hope township residents will be using a hundred years from now,” said Merlihan, arguing that preserving heritage value of the structure is the key to the whole project.

The mayor noted she would have liked to have seen an option that kept the bridge open to horse-drawn buggy traffic, for instance, but such projects aren’t cost-effective. A pedestrian bridge that retains the heritage structure is what the community wants, she said, calling for a quick solution after residents reacted badly to the large barricades welded into place on either end of the bridge.

Though officially closed in 2017 due to safety concerns, the bridge was still in use by pedestrians until the latest barricades made it completely impassable.

“I’d like to get on that, and get it open to the public,” said Mayor Shantz of moving quickly.

The cost of the repairs has been estimated at $1.1 million. Built in 1913, it’s one of the few steel truss bridges remaining in the area.

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