McDougall Line Bridge up for possible replacement

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After pleas from multiple area farmers, an east Tilbury bridge will remain open for now.

On Monday night, council voted in favour of moving forward with replacing McDougall Line Bridge. The bridge is located on McDougall Line, just west of Merlin Road. It is often used as a shortcut as a way for farm vehicles to get onto Queen’s Line from Merlin Road.

The council decision came after administrative staff brought forward a report, recommending that the bridge be divested and closed due to its deteriorating condition. However, council heard from residents who expressed that the bridge was a vital roadway for slow-moving agriculture vehicles and closing it would increase safety risks on Queens Line in addition to negatively affecting the agriculture community.

Jason Tellier, on behalf of his parents who own a cattle farm on McDougall Line, told council that if the bridge closes his parents would be forced to get onto Queen’s Line from McDougall Line, something he said isn’t plausible.

“I’m concerned that there will be more accidents on Queen’s Line at McDougall Line as there is not a proper corner to turn east onto Queen’s Line or to turn off Queens Line onto McDougall Line,” explained Tellier. “Tractors, cultivators, wagons and trucks will rip up the Queens Line road and shoulder to make that sharp turn. More importantly, when they’re trying to make that turn, they will be turning very slow which would cause traffic on Queens Line to slow down or stop which will cause a deadly accident.”

The 22-metre two-lane bridge was built in 1940 and has an average annual daily traffic count of 400 vehicles. In 2012, council supported rehabilitating the bridge but due to lack of funding, the move never went forward. It currently remains in “very poor overall condition” with the load posted at the lowest rating possible. The report presented to council states that complete replacement of the bridge would be the only option possible and would come with an estimated price tag of around $3 million.

Councillor Melissa Harrigan, who represents the area the bridge is located in, said she appreciated the report that staff prepared. However, she expressed worry that there wasn’t enough discussion with residents on the closing of the bridge for council for move forward with making such a big decision.

“It did lack some community dynamic around safety, around agriculture and around the impact to farmers…I think there’s a general feeling of disregard by constituents…there’s a disregard for the relationship between generally the vitality of Chatham-Kent as a municipality and the success of agriculture,” she said.

In hopes of looking at the bigger picture and encouraging resident engagement, Harrigan put forward a motion requesting that staff prepare a report that identifies the current divestment list for bridges and the decision-making process behind the divestments. The motion also requested that divestment of McDougall Line Bridge not move forward until the report is complete.

However, Thomas Kelly, general manager of infrastructure and engineering services, noted that a report of that magnitude could take up to a year.

Chris Thibert, manager of infrastructure services, added that time was of the essence and because of safety concerns, a decision of what to do with McDougall Line Bridge had to be made sooner than later.

“I know it’s definitely more preferred to use the backroads and roads like this that can accommodate this [but] I do want to stress again that the McDougall Line Bridge specifically is very heavily load posted and the current agriculture movement happening on it is even a bit of a concern,” Thibert explained.

Don Shropshire, chief administrative officer, said choosing to divest or invest in infrastructure while still being sensitive to costs, is one of the most difficult decisions a municipality has to make.

“We’re very cognitive of the importance of agriculture in our community, but the reality is, when we’re starting to make some of these investment decisions or divestment decisions, we have 50 per cent of the lifecycle that we have to have to maintain our current assets, that’s the reality. So every year we’re 50 per cent funded to do all the work that’s required and that’s why we get in a situation like this,” he explained.

Due to the fact that municipal staff was asking for a decision on the bridge to be made Monday night, Harrigan pulled her motion for the time being to allow Councillor Joe Faas to introduce a motion requesting that administration move forward with replacing the bridge, going against staff’s original request that the bridge be divested.

After over an hour of discussion, council voted in favour of proceeding with replacing the bridge.

Many councillors agreed that the bridge was a vital roadway link for farmers, including Jamie McGrail, who as a member of the agriculture community said she could attest to its importance.

“We need to big equipment off these high ways and Queens line is a highway,” she exclaimed. “When you bring slow-moving vehicles to a high way where the width is way more than the allowed pass, it doesn’t work.”

Although council approved going forward with replacing the bridge, any final project costs will still need to be approved by them at a later time.