Beginning of the end for Blue Bridge

A cyclist rides westward on the Johnson Street Bridge

Johnson Street rail bridge’s early closure leaves city scrambling to accommodate cyclists, pedestrians

A team of officials greeted downtown-bound cyclists and pedestrians approaching the Johnson Street Bridge Monday morning, redirecting them across an overpass to the only remaining sidewalk on the road bridge.

Towering overhead, the adjacent rail bridge held its upright position. It was lifted for the last time Saturday at noon and will stay that way until it is dismantled, likely in early 2012.

Council made the decision to close the rail bridge in light of an assessment report that revealed significant structural deterioration. An engineer from Stantec Consulting delivered the verdict to council Thursday: spend $120,000 on emergency temporary repairs or close the span immediately. The bridge can no longer safely hold the weight of a train and could deteriorate rapidly, posing a potential threat to even pedestrian and cycling traffic, the report concluded.

With little contention, council voted against spending the money on repairs. Factoring into the decision are  city plans to demolish the rail bridge in about eight months anyway, to make room for the new Johnson Street Bridge.

The early closure, however, left the city scrambling to accommodate cycling and pedestrian traffic.

“How you respond to this crisis will set the tone for the entire bridge project,” said Coun. Pam Madoff. “Once people are mad, and they’re pissed off, you can never get them back.”

Approximately 3,000 cyclists and 4,000 pedestrians cross the bridge each day, on either the rail or road bridge. Closing the rail bridge means rerouting thousands to the road bridge.

Councillors Marianne Alto and Geoff Young argued in favour of reserving one of two westbound traffic lanes for cyclists, despite the traffic jams it would cause.

“Is it going to be a nightmare? Absolutely. But I don’t see that we have an option,” argued Alto.

“You can’t count the pedestrians the way you can count the cars filling up Pandora (Avenue), but their time still means something,” added Young.

Johnson Street Bridge project director Mike Lai persuaded council against that option, in part because one three-metre-wide traffic lane could not safely accommodate two bike lanes.

The city expected to have signage up this week directing people to the sidewalk on the road bridge.

In late April, Lai will present other long-term solutions to help pedestrians and cyclists safely cross until the bridge is replaced, within the next three years. Among the plans are new traffic lights at the east and west entrances, allowing people to cross the street.

The city also plans to build a temporary train stop in Vic West. The new terminal, however, isn’t pressing as the E&N train has stopped running due to needed track upgrades.

rholmen@vicnews.com

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