While a replacement for the aging Louise Bridge appears to be getting closer to becoming reality, those who are pushing for it aren’t counting their chickens before they hatch.
"This is the second time we’ve been this close," Jim Maloway, MLA for Elmwood, told The Herald. "It snuck away on us last time, so forgive me for being a little suspicious."
Maloway has long been vocal in calling for a replacement for the 111-year-old bridge that connects Elmwood to Point Douglas. During Mayor Sam Katz’s final years in office, plans for a new bridge to the east of the current structure were in the process of being finalized, so much so that property was expropriated by the city.
"My understanding was when I got elected that this was already on the books for replacement," said Coun. Jason Schreyer (Elmwood-East Kildonan), a vocal proponent of replacing the Louise Bridge. "We don’t have much choice over this."
"The proposed alignment of the Eastern Rapid Transit Corridor was approved as part of the Winnipeg Transit Master Plan," noted a City spokesperson. "However, it’s premature to discuss specific options for the bridge’s replacement pending future public engagement."
While approval of the project is expected from council in early 2022, those who have been pushing for it for years aren’t holding their breath.
"Until I see a bridge being constructed, well, I’ll believe it all when I see it," Maloway said.
To date, the Louise Bridge has been closed twice in 2021, over 18 days, for maintenance or repair. Over the past five years, it has been closed a dozen times, for a total of 49 days.
"Only having two lanes, along with these regular closures, put at risk our emergency service routes," Schreyer added.
"It’s important to note that a potential replacement would still be subject to funding and council approval," the City spokesperson added.
Maloway is calling on new premier Heather Stefanson and the provincial government to meet the City of Winnipeg at the table to get the project done.
"The new premier is in a good position to contact the city and offer to get this job done," he said. "Until we hear a no from her, I’m going to assume she sees merit in the project."
"The piers are the oldest in the city," Schreyer noted. "It’s not the original bridge, but the piers were built in 1880s. That bridge itself is the second oldest."
Daniel Blaikie, MP for Elmwood-Transcona, said the project is "an excellent candidate" for federal investment, and would like to see both the city and province treat it as a priority project.
"The Louise Bridge is a vital traffic artery for northeast Winnipeg," Blaikie said. "It should also be treated as an opportunity to expand Winnipeg’s active transportation network and allow public transit to flow more swiftly between northeast Winnipeg and the downtown."
"I am looking forward to having the Louise Bridge replaced," James Teitsma, MLA for Radisson, said. However, he added that the decision itself remains with Winnipeg city council.
"The way the provincial government approaches infrastructure funding in the City of Winnipeg is to provide ‘basket funding’," Teitsma said. "This allows the City to set its own infrastructure priorities and decide how the money will be spent."
"City infrastructure is the responsibility of city planners and officials, and I’ll let them do their job in prioritizing major investments like the Louise Bridge," added Rossmere MLA Andrew Micklefield.
"The City on this one does need the support of the other levels of government, particularly the provincial government," Schreyer said. "When it comes to replacing existing infrastructure, there’s no way of going around that. It will be a source of many bus routes into Elmwood, East Kildonan, North Kildonan, and Transcona, so it’s a very important bridge for public transit. It’s the right thing to do. We’re going to need provincial funding."
For more information, see winnipegtransit.com/en/major-projects/transit-master-plan/
Sheldon Birnie is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Call him at 204-697-7112