City council mulls eight-year $2-million plan to fix crumbling pedestrian bridges

The Lions Gate Bridge, which crosses Little Red River near the Cosmo Lodge, is just one of six bridges up for replacement. Council is also considering plans to rebuild two more that have already been demolished. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Prince Albert city council has taken the first steps to replace or rebuild eight pedestrian bridges across the city.

On Tuesday, city council gave initial approval to an eight-year, $2-million project, which would see new bridges built across four sections of Little Red River, and four sections of the city’s storm channel.

The program would replace one bridge every year for eight years. The list includes four bridges that have deteriorated, but are still functional, two bridges that currently have “use at own risk” signs attached to them, and two more that were demolished due to safety concerns. The plan is still subject to formal approval.

“I’d rather spend money on getting something done, and that’s what this does,” said Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski, one of five council members to vote in favour of the proposal. “It doesn’t put it off for another year, just to spend money on a study.”

Zurakowski said he’s already received calls about the Grey Owl Bridge that crosses the storm channel. It’s one of two bridges with a “use at own risk” sign attached, and he says students are using it to get to a local high school.

Although he said he’d be open to other methods, such as demolishing the bridge and laying down two large culverts covered with dirt to create a pedestrian pathway, Zurakowski said it was important to start moving forward on the project.

The main priority will be replacing the old Sliding Hill Bridge at Little Red River Park. The city demolished the bridge in 2013 after heavy flooding caused the riverbanks to start eroding. Prior to the flood, the bridge led to a playground on the other side of the river.

“That’s a very critical bridge to get put in place, because kids are actually going over the ice trying to get through to that hill,” Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards said during the meeting. “It’s important and it will be a well-used bridge.”

However, the proposal didn’t make everyone happy. Mayor Greg Dionne, one of three council members to vote against the measure, wants the city to replace more than one bridge a year. That’s assuming they even replace them with another bridge at all.

“We’re not looking at any other options,” Dionne said during Tuesday’s meeting. “This is a $2-million expenditure over the next eight years. That’s a big price tag, so I think we should be looking at other options.”

Instead, Dionne wants the city to consider placing culverts in the river or storm drain, and covering them with dirt, which would create a natural pedestrian pathway. Wes Hicks, the city’s public works director, said such a plan would be possible. However, the tradeoff would be reduced water flow, which would be a problem during a severe storm, as well as less attractive parks.

“With a bridge, you’re spanning an entire channel and you’re not impeding the flow,” Hicks told council. It’s also a lot more aesthetically pleasing, when considering community services and the parks.”

Council did make one change to the original motion. City administrators will not be authorized to adjust the priority list without consulting council. Originally, the public works department would have been allowed to make any adjustments they deemed necessary. Hicks said that was because administrators could not predict when severe weather would further damage one of the bridges.

The Pedestrian Bridge replacement Program priority list will be included in 2019 budget deliberations, but the order of replacement isn’t set in stone. Community Services Director Jody Boulet said the goal is to create something similar to the city’s roofing program, where administration brings and updated list, and council decides where to go from there.

“I think establishing the program is something that we can make a priority,” Boulet said during Tuesday’s meeting. “How we move, which bridge (and) which location can be something that we discuss.”

Pedestrian bridge priority replacement list

The following is a list provided to city council by administration outlining which pedestrian bridges need to be rebuilt or replaced. Bridges are ranked from highest to lowest priority. Comments were included in a report submitted to city council by Nykol Miller, the city’s capital projects manager.

1) Sliding Hill Bridge – Little Red River Park – Bridge was demolished in 2013 after the Littler Red River flooded causing the embankment to erode. Cost $200,000

2) Swinging Bridge – Little Red River Park – This is a suspension bridge which has excessive sway, indicating the sway prevention system is in poor shape. This bridge is now signed “Caution Damaged Bridge Use At Own Risk”. Cost $330,000

3) Grey Owl Bridge – Storm Channel – Frost has heaved the south side of the bridge roughly two feet. There is structural damage, significant distortion and sway to the bridge. This bridge is now signed “Caution Damaged Bridge Use At Own Risk”. Cost $270,000

4) Sports Council Bridge – Little Red – The bridge construction was roughly built and it sways side to side. The embankments at both ends are eroding away and the retaining wall on the north side is decaying. Cost $270,000.

5) Woodman Bridge – Storm Channel – The bridges southeast piers have heaved out of the ground and caused moderate twisting. There are multiple cracked or broken deck boards. Cost $290,000

6) Helme Crescent Bridge – Storm Channel – Shows signs of heaving and there is a slight twist to the bridge with some metal buckling. Cost $230,000

7) Lions Gate Bridge – Little Red – The bridge was repaired and reinstalled after being damaged by the 2013 flood. There is some erosion on the north piers and cracking on the north embankment. Cost $200,000

8) Prime Ministers’ Park Bridge – Storm Channel – Demolished in 2017 after frost pushed the bridge piers out of the ground compromising its structure and safety. Cost $270,000