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Monday, 25 February 2013

Thoughts about the future of the Arlington Bridge

Arlington Bridge

In the summer of 2011 I spent a lot of time with the Arlington Bridge, in a manner of speaking. I wrote a four part series on the history of the structure. 

Over the past week I've had a number of people ask my opinion of the most recent report about the condition of the bridge. It is part of a larger $1.5m review that will study area traffic patterns, the state of neighbouring Slaw Rebchuck Bridge and McPhillips Street Subway, then make recommendations as to the future of the structure. The final report is not expected for at least a couple of months.

So here are my  thoughts, keeping in mind that the rest of the review has not been released yet.

 The Arlington Street Overpass

It's old

Opened February 5, 1912, the Arlington Bridge is now 101 years old. In Winnipeg, only the Redwood is older. The Louise was built at the same time but a opened a couple of months earlier in 1911. 

For this reason, and the usual maintenance issues when it comes to our older infrastructure, it doesn't surprise me that in a number of areas the Arlington Bridge scored poor.

Arlington Bridge - Ready for Take Off !

There's no guarantee that the bridge is going to be replaced

The Arlington is basically a neighbourhood bridge. It doesn't connect to downtown or densely populated parts of the city. For a number of decades it has not even been a truck or bus route. Just two blocks to the south Arlington Street becomes a two-lane residential street from Notre Dame to Portage.

Given the length of the bridge and the fact that the city would likely want to replace it with something more robust with two additional lanes that can handle truck traffic, I'm guessing that we're looking a close to the $72m Esplanade Riel territory.

Infrastructure dollars for certain types of projects are scarce. Taking a look at the main roadworks projects on tap for the Public Works department, (or a wider range of projects from the last 5 years based on provincial funding, or the priorities set out in the city's 2013-1018 capital estimates), and you see a trend. 

Most big ticket roadworks have been, and will be, geared toward new infrastructure in the suburbs, (the $18.5m Kenaston/IKEA widening), or ones that get people to and from the suburbs, ($17m Osborne Street Bridge, $195m Disraeli Bridges.) The major projects on tap for older parts of the city, neither in the core, are $7.5m to twin Molson Street and $30m for Polo Park traffic infrastructure.

I'm skeptical that a new Arlington Bridge is going to rocket to the top of the city's big-ticket infrastructure priorities any time soon.

The Arlington Street Overpass

The CP Yards relocation thingy

Since 1972 there has been talk, and nothing more, of moving the CP yards that lie beneath the bridge. (Check out my history of that issue here.) This, too, could be an impediment to its replacement. 

Even if this issue is on the back burner, does the city want to outlay this type of money on a structure expected to last at least fifty years if there's a possibility that in twenty years time it might not be needed ?

If the city does want a new bridge, they might first consider sitting down with CP. Offering up even half of the construction costs to CP, throw in some other incentives, and they could save tens of millions more in construction costs, not to mention decades of maintenance costs on all of the city's CP main line crossings.

Goodbye Rex

Being a Realist

I am a realist, even when it comes to heritage architecture. In fact, I find that many advocates are. There's a perception that everything single heritage-related demolition is jumped on and saved when, in fact, that is rarely the case. If advocating for anything like that you're almost always going to come out on the losing end.

If the bridge is deemed to be at the end of its life as a vehicle bridge due to corrosion and simply too expensive (or even beyond) repair, then it will sadly have to be taken out of service. Unlike tearing down a 100 year old building becasue you want more surface parking, bridges aren't something you can screw around with.

That being said, I hope that the city does not rush to conclusions. Mike Pagtakhan's argument that it should be torn down early as that will spur the redevelopment of a new span simply does not hold. If that was the case, our downtown and its surrounding areas would be filled with office buildings instead of pockmarked by surface parking lots.

The wonderful old Arlington Bridge

A Best Case Scenario

I do have a soft spot for the Arlington Bridge. It has been a unique part of our skyline for over a century. It's also been a fighter, managing to outlast critics that date back to its planning stages and numerous reports that said it was at the end of its life.

If the rigors of thousands of tons of steel rattling over it every day is too much for it, I would like to see the city consider maintaining it for a much lighter use as a a pedestrian link as part of its active transportation plan. Of course further debate on what should happen to the bridge will be dependent upon the other parts of the study that have not been released yet.

It will be yet another interesting and controversial year for the Arlington Bridge.

From the "the more things change..." file
If you've read my bridge history, you know that the Arlington Bridge has been a controversial project right from its planning stages. It was likely bought "off the rack" as a rail bridge for a very different setting and just a couple of decades after opening began to corrode due to the smoke from the locomotives below.

Mike Pagtakhan is just the latest in a long line of city councilors who have called for the bridge's demolition. The first was John Blumberg, who died in 1961. As reported by the Winnipeg Tribune of July 30, 1946:

"The Arlington street bridge will always be a bugbear. It was built to go across the Nile River, but it was peddled off to the city of Winnipeg. The sooner the bridge comes down and a modern one goes up, the sooner will the city maintain expenses."

Mayor Steen was exasperated by the amount of time and money spent on various traffic studies over the years. He claimed that "The area had been studied to death."  That was in 1978.

 Wine Festival in Chattanooga (source)

Other Notable Truss Bridges

Considered by many to be the grand dame of large-scale truss bridges, the Firth of Forth Bridge in Scotland built in 1890. 

The Walnut Street Bridge in Chattanooga, Tennessee also dates back to 1890 but with a niftier paint job ! It is was converted to a pedestrian-only bridge, said to be the world's longest.

The Arlington's sister bridge, (built by same company), over the Blue Nile in Khartoum opened in 1906.

The Pont du Quebec is considered the longest truss bridge in the world. It opened in 1919.

The Waibaidu (Garden) Bridge is a Shanghai landmark. It was built in 1907 but the cool lighting came after it was refurbished in 2009.

For More:

A history of the Arlington Bridge:


tofurkey said...

I suspect the approaches to this bridge win the contest for steepest incline in the City.

I have a soft spot for it too. For me, the steel trusses recall a time when steel had just replaced iron, which had earlier replaced wood. I always picture men swinging from the trusses installing the rivets and think back to the optimism at that time that Winnipeg would become a great city.

It's kind of neat that you loose radio reception when you drive over that bridge.

EdVorst said...

I like the look of the bridge too, but the railyards are an impediment to the city's future, and continue to separate the rich southerners from the more destitute North End. Get rid of the railyards and keep the bridge (though put it on the ground) as part of the new, green neighbourhoud

catherinelovesloganave said...

make it a pedestrian/cycling corridor that can be used for community events. It's beautiful, but also a critical link for those in the North End -- I suspect more people walk over this bridge than any other in the city.