Port Bruce bridge still out, one year after high-profile collapse

One year after a Southwestern Ontario bridge collapsed spectacularly during a major storm, the structure still hasn’t been replaced and local politicians are also trying to fill another gap, the funding kind.

Elgin County politicians are asking the province to pitch in to cover some of the estimated $4.5 million it will cost the county to replace the Port Bruce bridge on Imperial Road, which collapsed, amid heavy rainfall, a year ago on Saturday as a truck carrying gravel was being driven across it.

Built in the 1960s, the bridge was part of what was known as Highway 73. Control over the road and the bridge, however, was transferred from the Ontario government to the county in 1998 – decades after the bridge was built – which is why the county is seeking provincial support.

“We are making the point that this bridge was engineered by the province, not by us, and it is a good portion of their responsibility to come to the plate to help us out,” said Malahide Mayor Dave Mennill, who also sits on county council.

“We certainly didn’t anticipate this, and the life-span of this bridge was much shorter than most bridges should be.”

The Feb. 23 collapse left a dump truck stranded on the bridge deck with its back end submerged in Catfish Creek for almost a month before the vehicle was removed. The driver of the truck was unhurt, but had to be rescued by firefighters.

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The removal of a dump truck from a collapsed bridge near Port Bruce on Friday, March 23, drew a crowd of onlookers with cameras. Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press


The removal of a dump truck on Friday, March 23 is the latest step in dealing with a collapsed bridge into collapsed bridge into Port Bruce. Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press


A crane lifts a dump truck that was stuck for weeks on a collapsed bridge near Port Bruce on Friday, March 23. Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press


Workers watch on Friday, March 23, as a crane lifts a dump truck that was stuck for weeks on a collapsed bridge near Port Bruce. Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press


Hundreds of people gathered to watch a crane lift a stranded dump truck from a collapsed bridge, in Port Bruce on Friday March 23. Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press


Stranded for weeks on a collapsed bridge, a dump truck is finally liberated by crane in Port Bruce on Friday March 23, 2018. Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press

An initial investigation by consultants revealed the probable cause of the collapse was anchor rod failure, steel pieces used to affix structures to concrete. An assessment on the bridge in 2016 had shown it was structurally sound.

Since the bridge gave way, the county has invested more than $1.5 million in a project to demolish the original bridge and install a temporary one-lane bridge connecting Bank Street and Dexter Line over Catfish Creek. That span became operational last August.

Spending that money was necessary, Mennill said, because the collapsed bridge was the main entrance to the lakeside community. Without it, its roughly 200 year-round residents and emergency services were forced to take a five-kilometre detour that added about 20 minutes to their drive to access the community.

“Our first objective was to get the temporary bridge in . . . which has been working well,” Mennill said. “It is not as good as, obviously, a two-lane bridge, but certainly it allows us to get all the services into Port Bruce that are necessary and it also allows our tourism to continue.”

Now, their efforts have turned to building a permanent solution.

The county recently chose a Kitchener-based company to complete the environmental assessment and engineering design of the new bridge, which will cost more than $200,000.

The goal is to begin construction in 2020 and have the bridge ready that same year.

But funding remains a challenge, Mennill said.

“We did not budget for this,” he said. “We have money in reserves to cover it, but it is for other projects, not for this bridge, so we have to kind of spread ourselves a little thinner to accommodate this.”

Minister of Transportation Jeff Yurek, the area’s MPP, could not be reached for comment Thursday.



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