Swing bridge stuck open in high winds last Friday; MTO’s communication delay concerns Mayor MacNevin

File photo.

LITTLE CURRENT—Travellers to and from Manitoulin Island were stranded for more than an hour last Friday due to the Little Current Swing Bridge having been stuck in the open position for over an hour. Not only did it cause serious vehicle traffic congestion on both sides of the bridge, it caused marine traffic to be cut off and be delayed.

   “Due to extreme wind conditions at the Little Current Swing Bridge on Highway 6, sensors were damaged while the bridge was in the open position,” Nicholas Rodrigues, senior issues advisor communications branch with the Ministry of Transportation, told the Expositor. “The extreme wind warning in Little Current was not expected to diminish until the late hours of Friday, June 17. Therefore the (MTO) made the decision to not operate the swing function of the bridge until the winds calmed (after the bridge had managed to close and road traffic resumed). The MTO completed a test swing the evening of June 17. The bridge has now returned to full operation.”

The bridge opened at about 11:37 am on Friday after having been stuck in the open position for about an hour and a half.

Al MacNevin, mayor of the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands said as of Monday morning of this week, the town still had received no communication from either the MTO or Emcom (which has the highway maintenance contract with the MTO including staffing the swing bridge) as to the cause of the bridge having been stuck in the open position, or that the incident had even taken place.

“We don’t know officially what the cause of the bridge being closed down is,” said Mayor MacNevin. “I’ve put forward a few questions to the MTO on the lack of communication on this incident. When the event happened, we only heard about it when people were calling to say there was a problem and that vehicle traffic was backed up to the hospital in town and out on the highway past the arena. In fact, our public works crews opened up the recreation centre and alerted those in vehicles that they could take their children and pets there and get out of the heat while the bridge was closed.”

Mayor MacNevin had been in Espanola at the time the bridge went out. “I received a call from our CAO (Dave Williamson) that the bridge was down and he had been told by an Emcom foreman that it would be out for three to four hours. Then about 20 minutes later, at around 11:30 pm, the traffic was flowing again.”

“On Fridays at this time of the year the traffic to the Island is huge,” said Mayor MacNevin. “You would think we would be contacted, that there would be some communication provided from the ministry as to what was going on to the town so we could at least alert people of the problem. Not only the traffic from the Island going off-island but think of someone driving from or through Espanola on their way to the Island and finding out they can’t get over the bridge.”

“I understand they didn’t open the bridge to marine traffic until Friday night,” said Mayor MacNevin. “I’m not very happy with the lack of communication we received. There has been an increase in the number of bridge failures over the past couple of years that has impacted traffic flow. As we know, there are a lot of people who visit the Island, and many who work off-Island and these bridge breakdowns are happening more often. And still, no communication is coming forward. The communication is not there. We are still waiting response from the MTO and Northern Ontario Highways management. They could at least let us know when something goes wrong, but we’ve been given the impression that the ministry is not able to communicate that to the town.”

“And when traffic is backed up as much as it was Friday, what about ambulances or other emergency personnel trying to get through?” said Mayor MacNevin. “Our CAO has had no response to his inquiries to the ministry as of today (Monday).”

“We have sent questions to the MTO, looking at how to improve communications when these type of things take place,” said Mayor MacNevin.

He also explained that a cruise ship, Pearl Mist, was delayed in getting passage through the bridge Saturday morning. “It was supposed to be going through at 7:00 am (with the town providing port security), but was delayed until about 12:30 Saturday afternoon.” In this case, the large craft delayed passing through the narrows by the bridge due to high winds.

Rob Little, of Wally’s Dock Service in Little Current, who is the port agent for ships coming in told The Expositor on Monday, “as far as I know, and have been told, high winds damaged sensors on the bridge when it was open, but I haven’t confirmed this. They had the problem on Friday morning, but the Grand Heron was able to come in on Friday night. There was a delay for the cruise ship coming in on Saturday (because of the wind), and the bridge was opened again on Sunday for a cruise ship.”