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UPDATED: ‘Time is of the essence’ to fix Seventh Avenue SW bridge, councillor says

One option to fix the Seventh Avenue Southwest bridge could cost $200,000 and be complete by March, while a second option could cost $500,000 and take until next fall to finish

After six years of inaction, there could finally be a solution to fix the Seventh Avenue Southwest bridge so that two families can finally access their homes promptly.

During the Dec. 14 executive committee meeting, city council voted unanimously on a recommendation to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to temporarily fix the bridge based on information in a report that Associated Engineering (AE) produced for the Dec. 7 regular meeting.

Furthermore, council also directed city administration to speak with Carpere Canada about providing the Avery and Thorn families with unrestricted access to their properties, so they don’t have to open and close a locked gate when they come or go.

Council must approve the recommendation at the Jan. 11, 2021, regular meeting to become official.

Request for proposal outline

The RFP will likely contain two options.

One option would remove the east side of the bridge and open the west lane to single-lane traffic. This could cost $200,000 and be completed by the spring.

The second option could cost $500,000 and see construction crews installing new piles outside the bridge’s existing footprint. They would raise the bridge deck, install new piles under the structure, and lower the deck. This could accommodate two lanes and vehicles up to five tonnes.

This option would also take until the late fall or early winter of 2021 to complete.  

Both options would only address the bridge’s short-term future — five to 10 years with continued maintenance — while it would still be susceptible to ice jams and fire trucks would still not be allowed to use it.  

City administration expects to issue the RFP in the next couple of weeks.

Engineering observations

When the two families and their lawyer spoke to council on Dec. 7, they presented an analysis that a community contractor had produced about the Seventh Avenue Southwest bridge. The contractor suggested wrapping the existing piles in fibre sheathing and filling the space with epoxy to strengthen them.

“This is a completely viable repair and has been used in Western Canada since the ’90s,” Stephen Chiasson, an engineer with AE, told council by video during the Dec. 14 meeting.

However, the contractor didn’t understand the scope of what it would take to reopen the bridge, Chiasson continued. The piles’ caps are critical and need to be repaired to take vehicle weight; simply strengthening the piles won’t solve the problem.

Besides the three repair options that AE suggested on Dec. 7, AE and the community contractor created an option to raise the bridge deck, install the new piles, and lower the deck. Chiasson noted while this option is more expensive than removing half the bridge, it’s also less expensive than AE’s three options.

‘Elephant in the room’

While something should be done for the families, the “elephant in the room” is that a legal, city-owned roadway runs through the Valley View Centre property that the families could use, but that Carpere Canada is blocking since it now owns the property, said Coun. Dawn Luhning.

“Does the Seventh Avenue bridge need to be fixed? Yeah, maybe it does,” she continued. “But is it in our budget right now? No. So we have to come up with the funds for it and figure out what the best option for the city, residents, and for how it will look in the future.”

The other “elephant in the room,” Luhning added, is how after nearly two years of discussions, the issue of fixing the bridge “somehow, out of nowhere,” came to a head and the city had to pay for it. While Carpere believes the city should pay, she wanted city hall to enforce the legal roadway it owns.

Past mistakes

While Luhning was concerned about the roadway, part of the problem is the province constructed buildings on that roadway in the 1950s, and then in the 1970s, the city purchased that land, explained city manager Jim Puffalt. City administration hopes to meet with Carpere officials soon to talk about sharing costs to fix the bridge, which is what city hall wanted to do all along.  

“Tearing buildings off our road, I think, is a pretty drastic action for the city to take when the developer purchased the land (and) is interested in developing the property,” he added.

Time of the essence

Fixing the bridge by spring and moving on is important for everyone, said Coun. Heather Eby. She understands that the families have been stressed, but so have council and all residents.

“Time is of the essence,” she continued, adding she wanted to see both options included in the RFP. However, if that delayed the project, she then preferred the first option.

Mayor Fraser Tolmie agreed, saying whatever it cost to fix the bridge temporarily, it will still only handle five tonnes. He thought a single lane of traffic would address the current needs, while he thought council needed to move on this now.

Option 1 the best

David Chow, the families’ lawyer, stepped to the podium and reminded council that the families have attempted to get this bridge fixed for six years, while Carpere has owned the property for six months. He added that the families prefer option 1 since it could be completed before next winter. However, they appreciated both options being in the RFP.

“I’m not convinced taking off the east side is the best option. I mean, I don’t know, I’m not an engineer,” said Luhning. “But for now, I want as many options as possible without further delay.”

The next executive committee meeting is Monday, Jan. 11, 2021.