Municipalities begin to debate altering the swing bridge schedule

Swing Bridge, June 2019

LITTLE CURRENT – Some Northeast Town councillors were queried as to whether the Manitoulin Municipal Association (MMA)’s call for municipalities to discuss a new two-hour swing interval was a late April Fool’s joke. 

Following this newspaper’s front page article outlining the discussion at the MMA and a suggestion that the increased flow in rubber tire traffic across the swing bridge, which is causing delays and backups at the bridge’s traffic lights, could be alleviated by reducing summer swings to one swing every two hours (from the current hourly bridge opening, dawn to dusk, as needed by the boating public), the Little Current Business Improvement Area (BIA) wrote a letter to Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney, outlining the concerns of the downtown business community if this change in schedule should occur.

Councillor Barb Baker said she received numerous comments of concern from North Channel boaters, including the idea that the suggestion was a late April Fool’s joke. The boaters pointed out to Councillor Baker that, if such a change were instituted, it would have a serious effect on navigational aids as all documentation reflects an ‘every hour on the hour’ scheduled swing, not to mention the fact that all other movable bridges in Ontario operate on this sequence. The concerned boaters also outlined that the past two seasons have been without American boaters, thereby creating fairly short swing times. Once the boaters are back in full force, they noted, the swings will not be as short and an increase in vessels waiting for the bridge at two hour intervals will merely exacerbate the issue. It was also pointed out that the Chi-Cheemaun, not operating at full capacity, may have meant a higher demand on bridge traffic.

“The boating community says no,” Councillor Baker said.

Councillor Bill Koehler reminded his fellow councillors that they were elected to look after their constituents. 

“If our businesspeople hurt because of this, we shouldn’t even entertain it,” he added. “I’m totally opposed to this and we need to respect our taxpayers and businesspeople.”

Councillor Dawn Orr said she also heard from members of the public that a two-hour swing wait would be “excruciating,” and not solve any problems.

Councillor Al Boyd said that when it comes to the inconvenience of the travelling public or the boating and business community, the latter wins. “I am not in favour,” he said.

“I think they’d be better if they just made a motion to get the new bridge (construction) going faster,” said Councillor Bruce Wood.

Councillor Laurie Cook said that from a Ward 1 (McGregor Bay/Bay of Islands) perspective, “the bridge is a huge deterrent to accessing services in Little Current. I’m in favour of anything that makes the bridge more efficient,” she added, noting that many of her constituents choose to shop in Espanola over Little Current.

“I can’t see it making any sense to reduce the number of swings,” Councillor Michael Erskine added. “I don’ think this (two-hour swings) would have quite the positive impact that they think it will.”

“This municipality does run a municipality, does run a dock; to send the message ‘we don’t want you here’ is not useful or appropriate,” said CAO Dave Williamson.

Mayor Al MacNevin reminded council that the only service the municipality offers that makes a profit is the docks, “the rest of the services are at the taxpayers’ expense.”

“When you’ve got thousands of cars heading to the bridge on a Friday evening, there’s bound to be a backlog,” the mayor added, noting that many times the traffic flow had nothing to do with the boating traffic. “In future, a two-lane bridge will certainly help that.” A motion of support for a two-hour swing was put on the table with no motions of support made. The decision to craft a letter, outlining the Northeast Town’s position to submit to the MMA, was made.

Council for the Municipality of Gordon-Barrie Island did not pass a formal motion on the swing bridge subject either, but said they are open to the suggestion of having the swing bridge open two hour-intervals.

“I talked to people at the (Gore Bay) marina, and everyone is saying that vehicle traffic this year is exponential to boat traffic at the swing bridge,” Lee Hayden, reeve of Gordon/Barrie Island said at a recent council meeting. “I would endorse at least looking into the idea of having the bridge open for boats every two hours.”

Reeve Hayden told his council that, at the most recent Manitoulin Municipal Association meeting, the only local municipal leader opposed to the idea was Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin. 

“Does anyone (on council) object to at least enquiring about the possibility of the bridge only opening every two hours (for boat traffic)?” asked Reeve Hayden. 

Councillor Marian Hester said tourists to the Island come to see the bridge and see it opened for boaters.

“Those are the same people who wanted to keep the swing bridge as is,” said Councillor John Turner. 

“If a two-lane bridge is ever constructed this won’t be a problem,” said Reeve Hayden. 

“I am concerned about commercial traffic being delayed at the bridge,” said Councillor Turner. “It can be a problem for those delivering goods to the Island when they are delayed by being held up at the bridge when it is open for boat traffic.” 

Reeve Hayden noted that the amount of boat traffic is a small piece of the traffic compared to the vehicle traffic that goes over the bridge. “It seems that everyone (council) is in favour of at least looking at the proposal to have the bridge opened for boats at two-hour intervals (instead of hourly during the boating season).”