Councils in favour of new structure to replace Manitoulin swing bridge

Swing Bridge Little Current

Tom Sasvari with files from 

Alicia McCutcheon

GORDON/BARRIE ISLAND—Gordon/Barrie Island Township municipal council has made its preference known in regards to a study being carried out on the swing bridge in Little Current: council wants a new structure to be put in place.

“Our council commented on the swing bridge study,” said Lee Hayden, reeve of Gordon/Barrie Island after a council meeting earlier this month. “We want new infrastructure to be put in place instead of repairing the old structure. Basically, the comment we made was to replace the current bridge with whatever structure is selected.”

“We know they are looking at both options to repair and keep the current bridge, or replace it with a new structure,” said Reeve Hayden. “They are looking at everything, and council agrees that we need to get something that is new, stable and reliable.”

Ken Noland, reeve of Burpee-Mills, agrees with Gordon/Barrie Island’s stance. “The bridge has been service for over a century. It has served its term, but now we need something that is new and more reliable, and the consultation certainly needs to include more than NEMI (Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands) council to be involved in the process.”

Gordon/Barrie Island council, at its regular meeting, agreed to send a letter to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Stantec Consulting Limited outlining its thoughts on the process. “At the regular council meeting of the municipality of Gordon/Barrie Island on August 7, 2018 the issue of comment on the Manitoulin swing bridge was discussed at length.”

“Council feels strongly that it is extremely important to realize it is the only access point to Manitoulin Island for most of the year and they are in full support of a new structure that would serve Manitoulin’s future needs,” the letter reads.

“For future development on Manitoulin we need a secure, dependable access link to Highway 17,” council’s letter continues. “We strongly support new infrastructure to replace the Manitoulin swing bridge. This structure has served Manitoulin well for over a century, but it is now time to move forward with a transportation link that will serve the future needs of both vehicular and marine traffic. It is important to recognize the needs of all modes of transportation, whether it be by bicycle, transport, car, marine pleasure craft or cruise ship etc.”

“Council urges all parties, when considering this planning/design process, to please include all aspects of how this vital link connects Manitoulin Island to the rest of Northern Ontario and beyond,” the letter adds.

The engineers overseeing the swing bridge study attended the August 7 meeting of Northeast Town council, sharing an overview of the project and the five options that will be studied during Phase 1 of the project. These options include: keep the current swing bridge, a car ferry, a tunnel, a movable bridge or a fixed bridge.

Gregg Cooke, P. Eng. consultant project manager with Stantec Consulting Inc., was in attendance along with Melissa Delfino, senior project engineer with the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) and Jason Ranger, also of the MTO.

Mr. Cooke reviewed the purpose of the study with council, noting that the bridge requires “extensive and ongoing maintenance” and “is nearing its end of service life.”

He noted that the study is expected to take three years to complete and will be broken into three phases. The first phase involves a transportation needs assessment and will look at the “big picture alternatives” Mr. Cooke said, giving council the five options.

Phase 2 will develop the alternatives to the current bridge in more detail with one final option selected, while phase 3 will see the development of a plan and a transportation environmental study report, which will have a 30 day comment period.

“There will be many opportunities for consultation,” Mr. Cooke said.  “There will be lots of consultation, including with First Nations and businesses,” he reiterated.

This past Wednesday, August 22 marked the first public consultation meeting at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre. The next consultation won’t be for another year.

Mr. Cooke gave council a brief historical overview of the bridge, of its railway origins and its eventual use by rubber tire traffic. He also noted the study area, which encapsulates a rectangular area that takes in the whole of Goat Island’s south shore on its top end.

Mr. Cooke cited the problems with the swing bridge as being: year-round single lane road access, the fact the bridge is not available for use for 15 minutes of each daylight hour in the summer months (as long as there is boat traffic that needs to pass through) and its need of extensive repairs.

The opportunities cited were: an opportunity to improve traffic operations and access for all users; a reduction in operation and maintenance costs and improving reliability.

Since 1985, Mr. Cooke noted, the MTO has spent $18 million on the bridge–an average of $460,000 a year. This, he added, is well above normal cost for bridge maintenance.

When discussing the alternatives, Mr. Cooke explained with both the tunnel and fixed bridge options, it would mean a long approach would be required to achieve the necessary grade so the current entry and exit points would not be appropriate.

Mr. Cooke said his team has received lots of input to the initial mail-out and advertisements.