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Wednesday 22 November 2023

Last call for the Arlington Bridge?

© Christian Cassidy, 2023

It was announced earlier today today that the Arlington Bridge has been closed indefinitely after it failed its latest inspection.

This is hardly a surprise. Back in 2018, I was part of a community panel that worked on the replacement of the Arlington Bridge. At that time, engineers were adamant that the bridge was at the end of its functional life and it would be decommissioned in 2024. 

Below, you can see the design the public process came up with and what it looked like after the city hall bean counters got through with it.

Will the Arlington Street Bridge ever reopen?

The reports of its condition sound damning, but it has been counted out as being at the end of its life a few times before only to be repaired and put back into service. There would be a lot of people in the city's history dating back to the 1940s who would be shocked to see that the bridge is standing today!

If it cannot be repaired, hopefully the structure can stay as a pedestrian and cycling bridge as it is normally the weight and vibration of vehicles that cause the most stress to bridges. It is important to keep a walking link open to this part of the North End as crossing over the tracks is a deadly option.

A further study is taking place to see if it can be salvaged and what that price tag would be.

Will the Arlington Street Bridge ever be replaced?

I think it is doubtful that the construction of a new span at Arlington Street will ever take place given the number of issues working against it.

A new bridge is is not even on the radar of the city's multi-year capital budget and it would take years to get this funding in place. Add to that the time needed to buy/expropriate the dozens of pieces of land needed for the new bridge and it could be decade or more before a new bridge would open for traffic.

The $250 - $300 million price tag for a new bridge is from "Before Times". The cost of construction has increased considerably since COVID which could push this bridge project towards the half-billion dollar range.

There are other bridge projects that some would argue are in line ahead of the Arlington Street Bridge.

The Louise Bridge, built the same year as the Arlington but opened a few months earlier, has been touted for replacement due to its age and as a way to end the huge bottleneck it creates getting people to and from Elmwood and Transcona.  If the Arlington did beat out the Louise, it would then have to take on non-bridge transportation projects such as the Chief Peguis Trail extension and the widening of Kenaston Avenue along Route 90.

The Arlington Street Bridge is not very busy compared to other bridges in the city with just 13,000 - 15,000 vehicles travelling over it per day. This ranks it last in terms of traffic volume amongst the city's fifteen vehicular bridges.  (See here for a full list.)

The issue of the relocation of the of the CPR rail yards also hangs over this bridge even though it has been just talk since discussions between the parties ended in the mid-1970s. Those opposed to funding a new bridge, as well as people who feel they have the neighbourhood's best interests at heart, both point to rail yard relocation as if it is anything more than just a concept. This could keep the approval of a new bridge in limbo for decades to come waiting for a project that may never happen.

Concluding remarks

I must admit that I have a soft spot for the Arlington Bridge. Our family used it when I was a kid and I live just minutes from it today and travel over it fairly regularly.

The bridge has been controversial since its planning stages and the first calls to tear it down came in the 1940s. Despite this, it has stubbornly survived for another eighty years and has seen THREE iterations of its nearest neighbour, the Salter Street Bridge, in its lifetime. You have to at least give it grudging respect for being a survivor!

I have written a lot about the history of the bridge over the years and in 2023 I have been going over the posts to correct broken links, formatting issues, and typos. Below, you can see some of my related columns and blog posts. I imagine there will be more to come!

I have also conducted walking tours of the bridge in the past when it has closed for its annual inspection, the latest one ion September 2023. I hope to do more of these if the bridge reopens to pedestrians in spring 2024.

A History of the Arlington Street Bridge (2012 and currently being updated)
Part 1: Spanning the Tracks
Part 2: Construction and Controversy
Part 3: The Bridge as "bugbear"
Part 4: What about the Nile River connection
Part 5: The Future of the Arlington Street Bridge

Other posts and columns written by me
Arlington bridge troubles span nearly a century Winnipeg Free Press (2022)
Arlington Street's great lengths Winnipeg Free Press (2022)
How many lanes does Arlington Street Have?
West End Dumplings (2021)
Has the Arlington Bridge dodged another bullet? West End Dumplings (2020)
The process to replace the Arlington Bridge has begun West End Dumplings (2014)
Bridging the Past Winnipeg Free Press 2015
Moving the CP Yards, the early years West End Dumplings (2012)

My Flickr photo album of the Arlington Bridge

Other media:
- A feature interview with me on the future of the Arlington Street Bridge on CBC Radio, November 29, 2023. (See the whole morning show with many other guest talking about the subject.)
- Arlington Bridge: A long history of promise and disappointment CBC online interview

1 comment:

Canuckdaddy said...

I read the entire series about the Arlington Street bridge. Thank you for your contribution to local history once again. The Nile River connection has resonance for me, as it was part of family's take on the bridge. My late mother recounted an experience she had in the 'forties while cycling down the steep incline of the bridge after visiting a friend who lived in the North End. The front wheel of her bicycle became detached, causing her a spill onto the wood planked sidewalk. The scene was frequently in mind as I drove over the bridge. I learned much from reading your series on the span. As your blog is full of interesting and very accessible local lore, I continue to treat myself to the fruit of your labours.