The signs were posted this week alerting motorists to the pending rehabilitation of the Sykes Street bridge, which will get underway in just a few weeks. While the municipality is forking over the extra cash to ensure that one lane of the bridge remains open during the anticipated 20 weeks of the project, we will no doubt see congestion and frustration. But fear not, it won't last forever.
As I wrote in my Rants & Raves column in our print paper last month, get ready for a summer of traffic frustration, as, in addition to the Sykes Street bridge rehabilitation, work will also begin on the new library, just beyond the bridge at the corner of Sykes and Trowbridge Streets.
So this coming summer season is shaping up to be a little chaotic in the downtown core, but as mentioned previously it won't last forever, and once completed we shouldn't see any major work done on either the bridge or the new library for decades to come. So the frustration will be relatively short-lived, and most of us won't see a repeat in our lifetimes.
One of the most important messages we in this community can pass along to anyone and everyone we know from outside of Meaford's borders is that the downtown shopping district is most certainly open for business this summer. I don't think there is any question that our downtown businesses will suffer to varying degrees this summer due to the bridge construction. After all, as was heard time and again during discussion at council, this bridge is the 'gateway to the downtown'. Though one lane of the bridge will remain open throughout, many motorists will opt to take detour routes before reaching the bridge, which could steer them away from the downtown core, so it really is important that everyone know that while one lane of the bridge is closed, the downtown stores are not.
Our members of council are very aware of what all this construction activity at the first intersection of the downtown core could do to area businesses, and they have asked staff to heavily promote the fact that Meaford is open for business during these projects.
Another thing to remember as we look ahead to the chaos to come is that, even if the line is long to cross the bridge, or even if the detour route you've take is clogged with slow-moving, lost drivers, it is nobody's fault, it just is. There's nothing we can do about it; the bridge needs to be rehabilitated, and 20 weeks of having use of just one lane seems a much better option that shutting the bridge down completely for 15 weeks. But if you live on a side street on either side of the bridge, be prepared for significantly more traffic passing by your home this summer.
As with any such project, there are rain days built into the bridge rehabilitation contract, but as we saw two years ago during the Bake Shop bridge rehabilitation, sometimes Mother Nature doesn't cooperate and there can be more weather delays than were expected – also nobody's fault, so save your raised voices for the ball game.
After 20 or so weeks, motorists will have a fully rehabilitated bridge on Sykes Street that shouldn't need much in the way of funding or repair for 40 years, and once the library is completed and the dust has settled, the entry to our downtown area will look very different than it does today. And while at $5.5 million the library is a very expensive project, once completed it will leave us with a facility that should outlive most of us who are currently older than 30.
Speaking of the cost of the library, I stumped a reader recently while I was in the grocery store. As often happens, a reader approached me in the frozen food aisle to express anger about Meaford 'wasting all that money' on a new library. The reader was genuinely angered about the cost, and they were convinced it would bankrupt the municipality.
To this reader I asked one simple question: How much did the last library cost to build?
And that's where I stumped him, because it was so darned long ago that nobody remembers, and that will be the case 50 years from now, and 50 years after that.