December 12, 2018

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Opinion

Derelict Louise Bridge languishes as politically friendly Waverley underpass jumps the queue

The Louise Bridge. (Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press)

The Louise Bridge. (Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press)

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/8/2015 (1225 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

During the summer of 1881, Billy The Kid was shot dead in New Mexico, Sitting Bull surrendered to U.S. soldiers in Montana and the Canadian Pacific Railway became a thing.

These historic events are important to consider in light of the fact Winnipeg’s first bridge over the Red River was completed the very same summer — and remnants of the structure continue to serve this city today.

The Louise Bridge, built by the city 134 years ago, originally carried trains, pedestrians and horse-drawn carts. It was repurposed into a motor-vehicle bridge in 1911, when a new bridge was built over the existing 1881 base.

Somehow, this heavily weathered, visibly rusted structure still serves as a vital link between downtown Winnipeg and the east side of the city. There have been plans to decommission it and replace it with a new bridge since 2008, when transportation engineers determined the base was too old to be rehabilitated.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/8/2015 (1225 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

During the summer of 1881, Billy The Kid was shot dead in New Mexico, Sitting Bull surrendered to U.S. soldiers in Montana and the Canadian Pacific Railway became a thing.

These historic events are important to consider in light of the fact Winnipeg’s first bridge over the Red River was completed the very same summer — and remnants of the structure continue to serve this city today.

The Louise Bridge, built by the city 134 years ago, originally carried trains, pedestrians and horse-drawn carts. It was repurposed into a motor-vehicle bridge in 1911, when a new bridge was built over the existing 1881 base.

Somehow, this heavily weathered, visibly rusted structure still serves as a vital link between downtown Winnipeg and the east side of the city. There have been plans to decommission it and replace it with a new bridge since 2008, when transportation engineers determined the base was too old to be rehabilitated.

The engineers, in turn, spoke to city planners, who were drawing up a list of major Winnipeg road improvements that absolutely, positively had to be considered priorities.

That’s how the replacement of the Louise Bridge appeared in the city’s five-year capital budget forecast, a short-term infrastructure-spending blueprint, back in 2009. That’s also how the replacement of the bridge became a short-term construction priority in the city’s transportation master plan, a construction blueprint completed in 2011.

Both the capital budget and transportation plan called for the Louise Bridge to be replaced by the end of 2015. Yet before construction could start, the engineers had to decide exactly where to build the replacement.

One option involved rebuilding the Louise Bridge along its existing north-south alignment. The second involved replacing it with an east-west bridge that would line up more directly with the Nairn Avenue overpass, at the eastern tip of Point Douglas, and possibly serve double duty as a busway bridge that would become part of the future East Transitway.

In 2015, however, the city still hasn’t chosen an alignment option for the new Louise Bridge. In fact, the city hasn’t moved ahead with any aspect of the project, in spite of its high prioritization in both its fiscal and planning frameworks.

In study after study, traffic and structural engineers have rated the replacement of the Louise Bridge as a pressing need. Politicians, however, have their own priorities that don’t always match up with the well-being of the city overall.

Earlier this year, Mayor Brian Bowman said Winnipeg wouldn’t ask Ottawa to help fund a Louise Bridge replacement project.

Instead, city council decided the Waverley underpass was more of a priority — even though the transportation master plan ranked that project in the bottom half of the second tier of city road-improvement priorities, below a Top 10 list that included the Louise Bridge.

By now, Winnipeggers have grown accustomed to seeing municipal politicians ignore the advice of professional planners. But the decision to forge ahead with the Waverley underpass is not just a city-council screwup. Ottawa and Broadway share the blame.

In 2011, a federal election year, all three levels of government agreed to fund the widening of Plessis Road as well as a new railway underpass. The engineering wasn’t ready, but Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt helped orchestrate the deal when he threw his support that year behind Lawrence Toet, the Conservative candidate for Elmwood-Transcona.

In this federal election year, Ottawa was unlikely to support another project that would benefit the eastern third of Winnipeg — especially as Winnipeg South Centre MP Joyce Bateman faces a tough re-election battle against strong Liberal and NDP challengers.

The biggest headache in Bateman’s riding is the traffic snarl at Waverley Street when trains cross along the CN Mainline. This is also a major concern for River Heights-Fort Garry Coun. John Orlikow, who joined Bowman’s first executive policy committee last fall.

So mere days before the federal election call, Bateman, Bowman and provincial cabinet minister Drew Caldwell announced a $155-million Waverley underpass project that was nowhere near the top of the city’s infrastructure priority list, from the perspective of transportation experts.

This election year, voters in southwest Winnipeg are more important than motorists in Transcona, the future of the East Transitway and the pressing need to replace a rusty bridge, whose underpinnings first rose during the summer when Billy The Kid fell dead at Fort Sumner.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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