Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Broken bridge troubles political waters

Some claim delay in rebuilding it due to riding's Conservative bent

  • Print

NEAR WASKADA -- That's some detour.

To get home, Shirley Kernaghan parks her car on the highway shoulder, crawls through a barbed-wire fence without snagging her garden-green slacks or blue windbreaker --"I'm a farm girl," she explains -- and hikes 300 metres across an uneven pasture thick with burrs and foxtail.

She's 65.

She comes to an abandoned highway bridge that's buckled in the middle and hasn't been used for half a century. She climbs an aluminum ladder onto the bridge, crosses it, then descends by another aluminum ladder she's left there. She walks through waist-high weeds for another 75 metres to reach a different vehicle.

All that because the Coulter Bridge on Highway 251 west of Waskada was knocked out by last year's flood on the Souris River.

Kernaghan makes the trek three times a week to get to her job stocking shelves and overseeing produce at the community-owned Waskada Community Foods grocery.

Why doesn't she just take the recommended 40-kilometre-long detour -- 60 kilometres, if you want to drive on pavement -- to get around the Coulter Bridge? "Because I'm stubborn and I'm determined," she said.

It's also because the 40-km detour -- 80 km return -- is a dusty gravel road only designed so a few farmers could drive into town to collect mail and groceries.

Now it's seeing a hundred big oil trucks per day, school buses and every other kind of traffic. People describe the dust from the big trucks as "like whiteouts." Some drivers have lost windshields. One set of parents refuses to let their child ride the school bus out of safety concerns. Instead, they drive the child the 60-km paved route through Melita every day.

The bridge affects everyone. Adam McGregor and his family farm 6,500 acres on the east side of the Souris River and 3,500 on the west side. He kept track of the added distance he logged last year between farms: 3,000 kms. That's enough to drive to Banff and back.

The situation won't be rectified soon. Construction of a new bridge hasn't even started. It's expected it won't be built until November 2013. That will be 21/2 years with no bridge for the southwestern community in the heart of Manitoba's oilpatch.

That leaves people with lingering suspicions. People always say the Conservatives could run a yellow dog or a roadkill skunk in this riding and get elected.

"You see, we're not NDP down here. We're Conservative, and I think that means a great deal," said Kernaghan, a grade-school and special-education teacher for 38 years before she retired.

Not true, the province says. A total of 80 bridges were damaged in last year's flooding along the Assiniboine and Souris rivers. Of those, one of the highest priorities to repair was the bridge at Grand Valley west of Brandon on the Trans-Canada Highway. Otherwise, the highway could have been closed.

Four bridges were completely destroyed by flooding: the Coulter Bridge; the bridge north of Hartney on Highway 21; the bridge on Provincial Road 227 over the Portage Diversion; and the bridge on PR348. "We have so many competing priorities coming at us," said Ruth Eden, director of structures with Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation.

Residents were hoping to put up a one-lane portable bridge, called an Acrow bridge, such as the one the province spent $2.2 million to erect on Highway 21 near Hartney. The Acrow bridge is the evolution of the free-span Bailey bridges used to carry tanks in the Second World War.

Eden said an Acrow bridge would cost $4 million to $5 million, not the $700,000 residents estimate. The high cost is because it would have to be raised higher than the Acrow bridge at Hartney. It would also be longer, which becomes a problem for bearing heavy loads such as oil trucks. As well, the Coulter Bridge is the first span over the Souris in Manitoba, so it receives the brunt of ice floes and debris, which an Acrow bridge can't withstand. If it's any consolation, the new Coulter Bridge will be completed before Hartney's, Eden said.

People here aren't buying the excuses. They feel it's the only time in recent memory they've asked the government for anything. "If we had to wait for government to do things, we'd never get anything done down here," Waskada Mayor Gary Williams said. "We just kind of want them to get out of the way."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 14, 2012 A9

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Total Body Tune-Up: Farmer's Carry

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • MIKE APORIUS/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS BUSINESS - cow on farm owned by cattle farmer Lloyd Buchanan near Argyle Wednesday afternoon -see Larry Kusch's story  January 04/2006
  • JJOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-Postcard  Day-Horror frost and fog created a most beautiful setting at Assiniboine Park Thursday morning in WInnipeg- Enviroent Canada says the fog will lifet this morning and will see a high of -7C-  JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- Feb 18, 2010

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google