Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Community in dark on Disraeli Bridge construction: activist

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Bridges are supposed to be, well... bridges.

Structures that join people, not separate them.

Once they're built, anyway.

You might not live near where construction is underway on a new $195-million Disraeli Bridge, but most of us should be able to feel for the people who do. If not, maybe this will help.

Martin Landy knew he was coming back to the reality of winter when he returned last weekend from a relaxing Jamaican vacation, but he wasn't prepared for the other reality.

"Imagine my surprise to be awoken early on a Saturday morning to a continuous loud banging. Then realize that it is not my head making this sound; it is coming from across the street. What made it worse is that I noticed that things are moving around the house, a glass has vibrated off the counter and onto the floor."

That loud banging was the pounding of a piledriver.

"Bam! Bam! Bam!"

Landy is the designated spokesman for the Point Douglas Residents Association. But he not only lives in North Point Douglas, a neighbourhood with 100-year-old houses on fragile 100-year-old foundations, he works in the area of the bridge where, in Landy's words, the community has become the construction equivalent of a war zone, with big trucks and big piles of rubble.

"The community is under siege," Landy told me this week.

It's not that the residents weren't prepared for some disruption. They'd met last April with the city and its construction partners, who promised to keep them informed on the project.

"What we were not prepared for was the piledriving to start and to run for 12-plus hours a day and for six days a week."

That's not all that's shaken the residents, and their homes. People walk more than they drive in Point Douglas, but in Landy's view the construction just keeps on truckin' as if there's no one living there.

"There are changes to the surrounding streets; routes I take to visit a neighbour or the way I walk to work are no longer there. Instead of walking across a gentle slope I encounter a 10-foot wall of rocks in my path and, with the large snowfall, no cleared path around. I see a woman carrying a baby through snow, that with one missstep, has her waist-deep in snow as she struggles to get to a bus stop. This is now my life."

And apparently it will be for the next two years.

But, aside from the noise and the nuisance of the construction, what Landy really wasn't prepared for was what he feels is the city's indifference since construction started last month -- the absence of communication that was literally driven home by a piledriver.

"We were promised a construction schedule."

Landy said the city project manager, Bill Ebenspenger, did respond recently to a request for information four days after he made it.

He said Ebenspenger told him via email that they don't have a construction schedule for the piles. And that they were working quickly because of the potential of flooding and how it might disrupt construction.

But what about the disruption to the residents? How bad is it?

"My partner has told me that she is not sure if she can put up with this for the next two years, and that we must make a decision that will affect our futures," Landy said. "But how can we when no one is talking?"

By Wednesday someone was talking to me.

Brad Sacher is the city's director of public works. He agreed that the city had pledged to keep the community "in the loop" on the construction. And he thought there had been "a tremendous amount of communication" all through the project. He went on to say that he empathizes with the reality that having "a construction site in a residential area is a very delicate thing."

But it is a construction area and there will be noise, Sacher said, adding the city and its construction partners are doing everything they can to "minimize" the impact.

I told Sacher everyone appreciates it's a construction zone and that there will be noise. But, neither he nor I would appreciate having a piledriver pounding away for 12 hours a day.

That, I gently told him, is not what I call an attempt to "minimize" construction disruption.

In any event, I suggested, the bigger issue is a feeling that the city has neglected their promise to communicate.

Someone from the city needs to pick up the phone. And build a different kind of new bridge.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 17, 2011 B1

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