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Posts Tagged ‘disraeli bridges’

“I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?”
– 19th century British statesman and Winnipeg freeway namesake Benjamin Disraeli.

A few bloggers (Graham the rabblerouser and the ever-mysterious Black Rod) have mentioned that some citizens, including myself, had brought plans forward regarding the Disraeli Bridges Project.  My plan, based on conversations with literally hundreds of Winnipeggers, was to twin the Louise Bridge with a temporary span before any Disraeli closure was to take place.

However, the plan was not perfect: it required leasing of private property (a shed and equipment yard) and would have increased traffic on Higgins Avenue, which did not please some Point Douglas residents.  But I did feel that it was the best option considering the limitations that had we had been told existed.

Of course, most of Winnipeg found out in January of 2010, after four years of talk, that the bridge did not need to be closed at all.  Is that good news?  Yes and no.

It’s good news because the closure of Disraeli was unthinkable without increasing the capacity of other bridges.

It’s bad news because it shows that the city was completely wrong about the limitations of the project, and misinformed the 100,000 affected Winnipeggers for FOUR YEARS.   Not only did this cause undue worry, it also caused several businesses on Henderson to move to another part of the city.  In addition, there is still no plan for the Louise Bridge.

The options the city presented were either a) $250-300 million six-lane bridge still using the old piers and adding some new ones, or b) $125 million bridge refurbishment with 16 months of closure.  Now, the city is saying that a brand new four-lane bridge can be built for $195 million without any closure.

How can a third option come out of nowhere when the city made it abundantly clear that there were only two options?  There are two possibilities for this:

1. The city did not research the project thoroughly before deciding on what they found to be the easiest solution (particularly because they didn’t rely on the bridge to get to work each day).

2. The current project estimates are far too low, meaning that the $195 million price tag will be inflated significantly once construction has begun.

As a public-private partnership, the second option may not be a bad thing, depending on the specifics of the contract.  The city is borrowing $75 million up front, while the private consortium, Plenary Roads Winnipeg, will finance the remaining $120 million.  It is not clear from the information I have seen if cost overruns will be the responsibility of the private group or of the city, or if both will share the extra expense.

At this point, all that is clear is that the city did not think the closure was a big issue until the provincial government finally woke up and decided that it was an issue during a by-election campaign.

So in the end, is the new Disraeli plan a triumph?  No.  It’s a solution that should have been inevitable, but one which the city spent four years decrying as impossible.  The city and province both showed a serious lack of leadership on this issue.  At a time when we are all watching with curious dismay as the US House and Senate whittle away any chance of health care reform due to shortsightedness, partisanship, and selfishness, we see our own governments spending four years avoiding an issue that should have been resolved in four months.

I’m not sad that the city didn’t choose my fancy Disraeli plan, or that the city didn’t bother to consider it on any level; that’s the way government works around here, so it’s like being sad that pigs don’t fly.  But what I am sad about is that the leadership in this city and province has not even considered the damage that this four-year stunt has caused to the Elmwood residents and businesses at the foot of the bridge.

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I’ve never really understood the phrase above, but I’m guessing that it fits here.

It has become clear over the past few months that the Disraeli bridge rehabilitation is a big issue for the 100,000 residents of Northeast Winnipeg.  It’s also clear that the NDP government has no plan to provide traffic relief for its citizens.

While the City of Winnipeg is attempting to have half of the Disraeli bridges (one lane each way) open during construction, some people I’ve spoken to who are involved with the project have mentioned that this plan is not as easy as we’d hope.

Most people know that there will be some periods of full closure, in part because there are some construction tasks (such as pouring concrete) that require that there be no traffic using any part of the single-span bridge.  What is not clear yet is how long these periods of full closure will last.  What is clear is that there needs to be a plan for reducing traffic gridlock when the Disraeli is completely shut down.

That’s where the Louise Bridge comes in: the plan I’ve been putting forward, with the support of Councillor Jeff Browaty, is for the Louise Bridge to be twinned immediately.  This requires funding from the province, but there’s federal infrastructure cash available, too.

The plan:

  1. Throw up a new two-lane span beside the existing Louise
  2. Perform Disraeli rehab
  3. Replace original two-lane Louise bridge with a second two-lane span.

But there’s an issue here: the city would like to realign both the Louise Bridge and Higgins Avenue, connecting Point Douglas to Nairn on the east side of Watt/Archibald.  This project involves significant property acquisition, brownfield mitigation (maybe not full clean-up yet), and some serious planning to get it right.  It will also take an estimated $100 million and more than one season to complete.

So the best plan for immediate traffic relief for the Northeast is not the plan the city wants long-term.  But there is a way to get the city everything it needs (but maybe doesn’t yet realize it wants):

Construct a temporary second span for the Louise Bridge.

As long as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans approves, we can add three temporary piers alongside the current bridge and assemble a prefabricated temporary bridge that is wide enough for two lanes of traffic.  Once the Disraeli is finished, the city can begin work on its ambitious Point Douglas realignment project.  After completion, the temporary bridge and its piers can be removed, and the original Louise can become a heritage active transportation bridge.

Incredibly preliminary cost estimates place the construction of a temporary Louise span between two and four million dollars.

So what stands in the way of this idea?  The Doer government needs to show its support for the people of Northeast Winnipeg by committing to funding the temporary bridge, and the city of Winnipeg needs to make a final decision on whether or not the Point Douglas realignment plan should go forward.

No matter what the city decides, it’s essential that the provincial government guarantee that there will always be a minimum of six bridge lanes open at all times between Main Street and Henderson, whether on the Redwood, the Disraeli, or the Louise.  We have eight bridge lanes open now, with almost 90,000 daily trips across them, and four bridge lanes (two at Redwood, two at Louise) are not enough.

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