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Wednesday 24 September 2008

The Disrespected Disraeli Bridge

The Disraeli Freeway

History has not been kind to the Disraeli Bridge.

In recent years some serious rot has been allowed to set in. A number of large vehicles have
driven into it requiring emergency closures, inspections, and repairs. Now, the fight is at a fever pitch among elected officials, residents, and business owners as to what should replace it and how quickly it should be done.

This isn't anything new for the Disraeli Bridge. It built took three decades of failed referenda, political infighting and even a natural disaster of near biblical proportions before it was built.

February 22, 1913, Manitoba Free Press

The first mention that I can find of a bridge at Disraeli Street is the "East Winnipeg Radial Commercial Highway" in the Manitoba Free Press of February 22, 1913.

The proposed highway would take traffic congestion off of Main Street by running from Portage and Main via Rorie to Disraeli Street. The CPR tracks would be bypassed via a subway and a bridge would cross the river to connect Disraeli and Kelvin Road (now Henderson Highway).

Though mentioned, the project never got off the ground.

Disraeli Bridge Plan
November 1938, Winnipeg Free Press

The plan came back in the 1930s. This map was published alongside a Free Press column by James Gray in November 1938.
Gray obviously had traffic difficulties that morning as his piece started off:

"If Winnipeg originally had been laid out by surveyors instead of meandering cows, and if the pioneer urge to erect buildings in the most outlandish places had been squelched, Winnipeg would have little cause to worry about town planning today".

Gray would have to suffer the indignity of travelling route for another decade as the "Kelvin-Disraeli" bridge did not resurface until the late 1940s when the Metro Winnipeg Planning Commission released it's first 'major thoroughfare plan' in 1947.

In January 1949, the city put the Kelvin-Disraeli Bridge project on the books and began the necessary planning. The final approval would be left up to voters in a referendum.

Flood Point Douglas

It was during the final stages of the due diligence that the 1950 flood intervened. Above is a photo of the area where the bridge now was sits, (you can see the gas works near the top left.)

Needless to say, there was no political will or infrastructure money for the bridge in the aftermath of the flood so the plan went back on the shelf.

October 25, 1955, Winnipeg Free Press

The project was revived again in the mid-1950s.

In October 1
955, a money referendum to approve the borrowing of $4.9m to build the bridge was rejected at the polls. (It won slightly more than 50% of the vote but 60% was the mark needed.) The city tried again, unsuccessfully, in 1956. A third vote in 1958 proved the charm and the project got the go-ahead.

Perhaps increased traffic congestion helped change voters' minds.

A Free Press article from 1958 stated that evening rush hour lineups on Higgins Avenue from the Louise Bridge right back to Main Street. It's no wonder considering that the proposed Disraeli Bridge would be just the second river span built in the city since 1917.

There were two significant changes made to the original plan. First of all, there were two bridges rather than the originally envisioned bridge over the river and and a subway under the tracks.

The approach route was also changed. Rather than travelling from Portage and Main via Rorie Street to the foot of the bridge, the approach became Main Street onto James Avenue. (The current
Main and Alexander approach was not approved for construction until 1966.)

Disraeli BRidge Opens
Roblin & Juba cut the ribbon, Oct. 21, 1960 (Winnipeg Tribune Archives)

It was to much
relief and fanfare that on October 19, 1960 at 11 a.m., mayors Juba of Winnipeg and Suttie of East Kildonan walked with their respective councils from opposite ends of the structure to meet Premier Roblin in the middle for a ribbon cutting. (The province paid the majority of the $5.5m price tag.)

Steel grate deck (Winnipeg Tribune Archives)

Initially, the Disraeli sported a steel grate deck. In the summer of 1971 the city approved $600,000 to convert it to concrete.

Disraeli Freeway Sign Disraeli Freeway Sign

The bridge that took almost 30 years to get built will soon be coming down !


Disraeli Bridge Project
City of Winnipeg
Deal reached on Disraeli bridge CBC News
Better Disraeli.com
Disraeli set for Demolition over weekend CBC, June 2012
A Disraeli Death West End Dumplings, Jan 2012

September 2008
New bridge (source)

At the September 24, 2008 council meeting the Disraeli's future was decided. The option chosen was a $140m bridge the same size as the existing one (1.1 km) but reusing the existing river pillars. The site will be closed for 16 months while they make the upgrades.

Update October 2009:
Due to a campaign by neighbouring businesses and residents against the prolonged closure, the city and province reached an agreement to spend another $60m to allow part of the bridge to remain open throughout the construction period.

News and construction updates:
Disraeli Bridge
February 2010

Winnipeg - Waterfront to the Disraeli
Former pedestrian overpass

 Disraeli Freeway
July 2008

July 2008

 Under the Disraeli
July 2008

 Disraeli Bridge Construction
June 2011

Disraeli Bridge, Winnipeg

September 2011

 Disraeli Bridge
October 2011

Disraeli Bridge Construction
April 2012

Disraeli Bridge Construction
April 2012

Disraeli Bridge Construction
April 2012


Anonymous said...

I shudder to think that there's no one watch dogging this project. I live in "Elmwood landing" and the construction has begun. So far, only prep work but already the big tree and park bench that was so delicately spared during the bank shoring up process was unceremoniously brought down today. I was told this spring that tree would be spared. They will just tell you whatever they want just so you'll go away and no cause any trouble. I worry about Elmwood landing...it's going to be held hostage for the entire time of construction.....equipment, traffic, noise, isolation.

Timothee Lambert said...

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