The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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