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Clarenville Mayor digs in his heels over causeway bridge replacement

Clarenville Mayor Frazer Russell and the Shoal Harbour Causeway Bridge.
Clarenville Mayor Frazer Russell and the Shoal Harbour Causeway Bridge. - Jonathan Parsons

Russell says bridge needs better funding agreement — or it won’t be fixed

CLARENVILLE, N.L.

Clarenville Mayor Frazer Russell says unless the town gets “a suitable formula” for a cost-share agreement with government to replace the Shoal Harbour Bridge, then they’re content to leave it as is.

“If that don’t happen, then this bridge will remain a one-way bridge until it’s no longer safe to have it one-way—and then it will be closed!” Russell told the Packet.

“At this present moment, we are not prepared to divert money from our capital funds that have to be placed into greater infrastructure needs.”

Last spring, after a routine inspection, it was discovered that the Shoal Harbour Causeway bridge was in need of replacement or repairs and not suitable for a full flow of traffic until further notice.

Since then, through work with the province and consultations with federal departments, the bridge was reopened for one lane of traffic—with a stop light allowing for cars to go back and forth across the bridge.

It’s remained a one-lane bridge since then.

In an interview with The Packet in January, Russell confirmed it’s long been the position of council that they don’t feel responsible for the replacement of the bridge, with it being implemented as part of the old Cabot Highway, nor do they have the funds under a currently accepted government cost-share agreement to do the necessary work on the bridge.

Russell confirmed that they have responsibility for the upkeep and maintenance of streets such as Manitoba Drive and Shoal Harbour Drive in the town, but says for the bridge on the Shoal Harbour causeway, there is no record of the responsibility being transferred over to the town.

He adds that it was always in the province’s inventory, and the province had accounted for things like inspections on the bridge even since Clarenville took on responsibility of the Manitoba-Shoal Harbour Drive area.

“Why would they be inspecting a bridge that they didn’t own?” he wondered.

Russell is ultimately saying the cost of replacing or repairing a bridge — that technically may not even be their responsibility — is not worth it. He adds, especially so, since the closure is seen merely as an inconvenience and not a necessity.

“Under no circumstances are we able, as a municipality, to replace that say on a 50-50 formula or a 60-40 formula because our portion of it would be fairly large,” Russell told The Packet.

He adds, while the bridge being reduced to one lane is certainly an inconvenience for people in the community, any work to repair the bridge would have to come from other infrastructure needs elsewhere — needs that are higher priority than fixing the bridge.

“We don’t view that bridge to be that essential that we would take away from a project, say, on Random Square where we have sewer issues and street issues, to replace that bridge.”

Despite council’s reluctance to commit a large portion of capital works money to fix the bridge, Russell says they are continuing talks with Terra Nova MHA Colin Holloway and Bonavista-Burin-Trinity MP Churence Rogers to reach a more desirable agreement—perhaps one that would see a cost-share closer to 90-10 or 80-20 between the provincial and federal governments and the town.

Russell says if the bridge replacement ended up costing a hypothetical estimate of $3,000,000, the town could probably afford to contribute 10 per cent, or $300,000, to see the work completed.

“That’s a far cry from 40 per cent of the project.”

And Russell says they’ve discussed as low of a deal as one-third, one-third, one-third between the municipality, provincial and federal governments, but described that agreement as “unpalatable.”

He adds that if they were to be offered any sort of similar arrangement around a 70-30 split, he guesses council would likely reject that too.

“If this were for a sewer project or something else in the town that we felt was so essential, you probably would accept that.”

While Russell says they are willing to keep the bridge as is until it is no longer safe for even one-lane of traffic — upon which it will be closed — any traffic complications this presents elsewhere in the community is something they’ll have to deal with when the time comes.

And if it came down to that, Russell says he’d be more willing to put the work into upgrading the Shoal Harbour Drive area to alleviate any traffic and safety issues caused by the bridge closure.

In addition to his hard line on the actual funding for the bridge, Russell says he’s still unclear on what the best method for replacing the bridge would be.

He says there’s more engineering reports to be completed, which will give them a concrete number as far as the cost of the bridge — whether that be a double box culvert structure, or an entirely new bridge. The engineering report was planned to be paid for with capital works funding from the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment, which allowed unused dollars to be allotted for the study.

“I hope that by the time the engineering report is complete we will have arrived at a satisfactory funding formula.”

Jonathan.parsons@thepacket.ca

Twitter: @jejparsons


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