HERITAGE VALUE PART OF DECISION ON OLD BRIDGES
IT’S ALMOST A NEW year, but early on Woolwich council will be grappling with things decidedly old, namely three steel truss bridges showing the ravages of time.
As a story in this week’s issue notes, an engineering report has already recommended the permanent closure and demolition of a bridge on Middlebrook Road. Likewise, a century-old span on Peel Street in Winterbourne has been earmarked for mothballs. The oldest of the three, the Glasgow Street bridge in Conestogo, is currently under review, its fate to be determined.
There’s no doubt that the three structures are in bad shape, showing signs of deterioration that have forced their closure due to safety concerns. Only the Glasgow bridge is open, though it has been shut down numerous times for repairs.
In the case of the two completed assessments, the recommendation for permanent closure hinges principally on economics: maintaining them for vehicular traffic or even pedestrian use would be costly, an expense hard to justify given low usage. Moreover, millions spent today and over the next couple of decades might not extend the lifespans of the structures to anything like the amount of time they’ve already been in place.
In order to get another century out such crossings, the existing bridges would have to be replaced. That’s even more cost-prohibitive; so much so that the option is barely worth mentioning. Moreover, such moves would undo perhaps the number-one reason for preserving the existing spans: the historical value.
All three bridges harken back to an earlier time in the township, with steel and wood instead of the ubiquitous concrete and asphalt. Their single lanes are more in line with a small population and buggy travel. Longtime fixtures in their respective locations, they are in essence pieces of the landscape and the local heritage.
There are undoubtedly those who would keep the bridges in operation for the sake of history alone, noting you can’t put a price on pieces of the past. The township will have to be much more pragmatic, however, as the costs are significant. In spending millions, councillors have to look at how many people benefit and for how long. Such spending typically requires a long-term return, and the two reports to date suggest the Middlebrook and Peel bridges will have come to the end of their lifespans by 2050; that may not be long enough for a payback. And even in the parlance of this area’s relatively short history, 30 years doesn’t amount to much.
While many people may appreciate the history and the aesthetics, most of us wouldn’t be happy to see large tax increases to pay for privilege. In fact, most of us already take issue with the value proposition that is taxation today.
Everyone is well aware – or should be – that there’s an infrastructure deficit in the township, along with every other municipality, province and, indeed, the country itself. There’s nowhere near enough money to meet today’s requirements, let alone tomorrow’s, as the existing infrastructure continues to age and deteriorate.
Still, the heritage considerations can’t be dismissed out of hand. The region has a very poor track record of protecting historical structures, many of which were left to crumble while others were torn down in favour of ugly, badly designed and poorly built replacements.
There’s more than economics to be considered when council makes a decision.