Regardless of bridge study, reliable access needed on and off-Island, says MMA

Little Current swing bridge

MINDEMOYA—Regardless of their feelings on whether the swing bridge should be replaced—with several options to be considered including maintaining the current structure and providing ongoing maintenance and repairs to the structure as required—the opinions of MMA members were made clear at a meeting with Stantec Consulting Ltd. and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) last week.

“The bottom line is that we need reliable access on and off the Island,” said MMA Chair Ken Noland.

“First of all, when look at the bridge, it was constructed in 1913 and if you asked any engineer if they would believe that a mechanical structure would last this long they would say no,” said Lee Hayden, Reeve of Gordon-Barrie Island township. “It is time to move forward and this is the opportunity to do so. I can understand the attachment a lot of people have to the current swing bridge but it is time move forward and look to the future with something more current.”

Al MacNevin, Mayor of the town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands (NEMI) told the meeting, “I had the opportunity to hear this presentation at one of our council meetings. “We have raised concerns that an overhead lift bridge or tunnel bridge would change the entry route into and out of the town. Basically, the investments made by businesses in the new hotel and passing by the downtown area would impact businesses in Little Current. As well, I disagree with the comment made earlier that less people on the West End than Little Current or the East End of the Island would like to keep the swing bridge in place. I think all over the Island you will find people that want the swing bridge to remain. I think you will find the opinion is evenly divided on the island.”

“People come to Manitoulin and take selfies at the bridge. It (the bridge) is a significant attraction to the Island,” said Mayor MacNevin. “I understand the bridge will not last forever,  but I would like to see what the consultants recommend. But, if it is a tunnel or overhead bridge it would impact Little Current. I’m willing to look at the final recommendation to be made by the consultants after the study is done.”

“Hundreds of other businesses need reliable access to and from the Island as well. We need to move forward on this,” said Mr. Noland.

Gregg Cooke of Stantec had indicated earlier in the meeting that MTO has retained Stantec to undertake planning, preliminary design and class environmental assessment (Class EA) studies for the swing bridge. “The existing bridge requires extensive and ongoing maintenance and is nearing the end of its service life. The purpose of this study is to identify a plan that addresses current and future transportation needs at the bridge crossing,” said Mr. Cooke.

The study is broken up into three phases: the transport needs assessment phase, planning phase and preliminary design phase.

“The existing bridge provides year-round, single-lane road access between the community of Little Current and Manitoulin Island and the mainland,” said Mr. Cooke. “The existing bridge is nearing the end of its service life and will require extensive and ongoing maintenance or replacement.”
Mr. Cooke said, “there are opportunities to improve traffic operations and access for all users, reduce operating and maintenance costs, and improve reliability of the crossing.”
Mr. Cooke provided a maintenance and repair history, from 1985, showing that approximately $17 million has been spent over the years to repair the swing bridge.

The Class EA process requires that all reasonable alternatives be considered to address the identified problems. This involves two levels of analysis: first, alternatives to the undertaking considers a broad range of alternatives that could address the project needs. Second, alternative methods of carrying out the undertaking are studied once the best undertaking is selected.

Mr. Cooke noted the alternatives to the undertaking include, “do nothing, maintain the existing single lane structure and provide ongoing maintenance and repairs to the structure as required; replace with a ferry that will carry traffic from Goat Island to Little Current; replace with a two lane tunnel; replace with a moveable bridge, a two-lane structure with pedestrian and vehicular facilities that could be a lift bridge, a swing bridge, or a bascule bridge; replace with a two lane fixed bridge with a higher vertical clearance to provide clearance for boat navigation.

The first public information centre took place August 22 at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre with approximately 87 individuals attending. “In terms of feedback there was the camp that like the existing bridge to remain and those who want a more modern and reliable bridge,” said Mr. Cooke. “There was a good split in opinion between the two.”

Art Hayden, a Burpee-Mills councillor, commented that the current bridge is only single lane and suspect mechanically, with many repairs having been done to it over the years. “For businesses and potential business entrepreneurs as well as emergency services, for instance, a good, reliable, safe bridge is required. If the swing bridge fails it impacts everyone getting on and off the Island. If we can have a reliable structure with two lanes that accommodates marine and other traffic, that is the best option.”

Brian Parker, a Billings Township councillor said, “the current bridge is an antiquated piece of equipment. It is a heritage bridge but it has had its day. I think more people would favour a new structure.”

Melissa Delfino, MTO project manager said although funding is in place for the study, only until the end of 2020, the ministry would then be seeking more funding. “I’m at the engineering level, and we would be recommending the study move forward to the next stage.”

When asked what the rough costs are for the alternatives, Mr. Cook said the movable bridge would cost between $25-50 million, a fixed bridge $50-100 million and $250-300 million for a tunnel bridge. However, on the latter, “we need to do more work and research on the costs involved. For the ferry we didn’t put costs to it at this point,” he said, noting one was recently commissioned in eastern Ontario for  $40 million but there would be dockage and operating costs that have to be explored.

Gore Bay councillor Jack Clark noted at least one other option, the submerged tunnel (put forward by local resident Bill Caesar) has come forward, and he wondered if this would be considered.

“We need to do more work and research on tunnels to get more of a handle on this,” said Mr. Cooke.

“I think all of our biggest concern is that this is the only way on and off the Island and we need a reliable access,” said Mr. Parker.