July 1 weekend swing bridge traffic a debacle that should not repeat

Those travelling over the swing bridge at Little Current during the Canada Day long weekend were subjected to lineups that extended through the town, at times essentially blocking at least two intersections and posing considerable delays and frustration for travellers both coming and going. Inquiries about the delays pointed squarely to Ministry of Transportation policy governing the movement of traffic over the bridge.

Apparently, the bridge lights operate on an automated system, except on Fridays and Sundays. As the bulk of the Canada Day long weekend traffic began on Thursday, that policy obviously needs a bit of adjustment, as it well might impact on other long weekends as well.

The recent challenges, with wind damage preventing the swing bridge from properly closing, led to an hours-long delay for travellers a few weeks ago.

It seems that the time for replacement of the Manitoulin swing bridge is fast upon us. Not only is the aging structure likely to continue to face more challenges going forward, but the two-lane replacement will alleviate the bottlenecks caused by, oddly, a lack of the human hand. Automation works wonderfully when things can be categorized into defined slots and timings, but we are appear to be some time away from when artificial intelligence can take on some jobs.

To be sure, the human intervention in the past has not been perfect, but the experienced hands who once manned the cupola above the bridge roadway are largely missing these days—and have been since a new contractor took over the management of the bridge. Those senior operators had years of experience that guided their hands upon the pause button that governs the streetlight timing.

In years past, clearing the Island-side traffic took precedence, for obvious reasons, but judgement that comes from experience helped limit traveller frustration. That experience was lost when older workers with the previous operator were not rehired when the new contract was awarded. While the bridge is staffed during the summer months, the operators job is to swing the structure open to allow for marine traffic to pass through. On Fridays and Sundays, the operator is expected to clear traffic according to need. A penny saved is not always a penny earned it seems, but then again, the people paying the piper are not those collecting payment from the province—it is the hapless tourist and traveller who are paying the price in lost time.

The Ministry of Transportation needs to step up to find a solution to this issue. Anything that discourages people from coming to Manitoulin to enjoy the tourism products our Island has to offer is a serious impediment to our economy. These unnecessary traffic delays cannot continue.

Let’s get the new bridge project started.