Base Line Bridge to stay as is

The majority of people who attended a public meeting to discuss the future of the Base Line Bridge in Wallaceburg want it to remain a movable span. February 20, 2020. (Photo by Paul Pedro)

Although it might cost a little more than planned, Base Line Bridge in Wallaceburg is staying a moveable structure and will be getting some much-needed upgrades.

After a successful vote from council, a nearly $2.2 million contract has been awarded to a company based out of Hamilton.

Built in 1994, the swing bridge runs over the Sydenham River and allows access to both boats and vehicular/pedestrian traffic. However, the bridge has had its share of mechanical issues over the years, resulting in it becoming stuck in the open position when allowing marine traffic to pass through.

In 2019, electrical work was complete on the bridge to allow municipal officials to override the programming and force the system to close the bridge if it becomes stuck.

However, the upcoming mechanical work is still needed to address root problems associated with faulty sensors and other bridge components. In addition, structural issues have since been identified that are necessary to extend the life of the bridge.

Engineering estimates for the project were initially pegged at $1.9 million. Although the successful contractor estimated that the project will cost $2.9 million, the work will only move forward if the municipality is able to negotiate the cost down to $2.2 million.

According to Chris Thibert, director of engineering and transportation, the complexity of the project and finding a company that can deal with both the mechanical work and structural work is what led to the higher than the anticipated price tag.

“Dealing with moveable bridges, there’s not really a lot of appetite out there for that type of contract and that kind of work,” explained Thibert. “It was a bit of a challenge to find the mechanical expertise hence why we’re assuming the contract came in much higher than it did.”

Construction is expected to take four to five months and the bridge will remain closed to vehicular traffic during that time. The project was expected to be completed by August 4, 2020, however, due to COVID-19, the completion date may need to be revised and negotiated.

Marine traffic will be permitted for the majority of the project. The contractor is also required to provide full marine access for WAMBO although there is a slight chance that condition may have to be revised due to COVID-19.

Once completed, the upgrades will provide the bridge with 30-35 years of service.

According to a staff report, the municipality could save up to $1 million in up-front capital savings if the Base Line Bridge was to be converted from a moveable structure into a fixed structure. If all the bridges in Wallaceburg were converted to non-moveable, the municipality would save around $1.1 million every year.

However, this idea came with some public outcry from residents. Council heard a deputation from a concerned citizen who spoke to the importance of allowing marine traffic to flow throughout the community.

Council was presented with a staff recommendation to work with Transporation Canada and explore options to convert the Dundas Street Bridge and Murray Street Bridge into fixed bridges, which would come with an annual savings of $500,000. However, Councillor Aaron Hall put forward a successful amendment to get more information from staff first about this possibility and receive a report at a later council meeting.

Hall said he had heard from multiple residents and community groups about the issue of converting the bridges.

“They were all speaking about the importance of the waterways to the identity of the community of Wallaceburg. Both in the past and the present but also looking at opportunities in the future, specifically related to tourism or economic development,” said Hall.

Currently, 17 per cent of all of the moveable bridges in Canada are located in Wallaceburg.