Meaford's council is looking to find a new approach to bridge infrastructure that would avoid the closure of any bridges if possible.
The first step toward a new approach was taken on Thursday, April 25, in Bognor, where a public meeting on the issue was held, drawing roughly 150 residents who shared their frustrations over bridges that have already been closed, those that are proposed to close, as well as bridge weight limits which can have a negative impact on the local agricultural economy.
Council is hoping that residents who attended the Bognor meeting, as well as those who didn't, will share their views on bridge infrastructure by submitting comments to the municipality.
At their April 29 meeting, councillors were presented with a proposal from staff to use some of the funds from an unexpected provincial grant to undertake an extensive traffic count survey, and to develop an updated state of the infrastructure (SOTI) for bridges.
“On March 20, 2019, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing notified small and rural municipalities across the province of a one-time, unconditional grant. The Municipality of Meaford's grant is for $642,347,” acting CAO Rob Armstrong told council in his report. “While the grant is unconditional, the provincial government has encouraged municipalities to use these one-off funds for projects designed to “modernize service delivery” and identify “more efficient ways of operating”. To that end, senior staff have developed a list of projects that would greatly enhance the long-term planning and customer service that the Municipality can provide, but for which resources are currently unavailable. Each of the proposed projects fits within Council’s five identified focus areas.”
The staff proposal would have used $152,000 of the $642,347 grant funding to conduct the traffic count survey, and another $50,000 to update the bridge SOTI. For the remainder of the grant funding staff had proposed a number of initiatives including a solar installation, development of a transportation master plan, and a work order management system.
Councillors however saw a different opportunity for use of the unexpected grant funds – they want to replace and re-open bridges 21 and 22 located on the Holland-Sydenham Town Line.
On January 29, 2016, the Municipality of Meaford implemented the emergency closure of the bridges on the Holland-Sydenham Townline, due to the results of the Ontario Structural Inspection Manual (OSIM) and recommendations from Ainley and Associates Structural Engineers, who prepared Meaford's current State of the Infrastructure (SOTI) report for bridges in Meaford.
In September of 2016, the municipality hired consulting firm Planmac Engineering Inc. to complete a Municipal Class Environmental Assessment (MCEA) for the bridges, and in their report presented to council on April 10, they came to the same conclusion as the SOTI report a year earlier – that the bridges, which have been closed for more than a year, should be removed permanently, and that recommendation has area residents frustrated.
The bridges have been closed to traffic since, much to the frustration of area farmers and other business owners who rely on those bridges, and while there are alternate routes, they aren't necessarily practical or safe, residents have told council.
“With everything that this council has been going through with a massive amount of monies that are going to be required for our roads and our bridges, we have an opportunity here with this really good amount of grant money to I believe, really make a difference if we put that money towards roads and bridges,” suggested Councillor Tony Bell.
Other members of council agreed with Bell.
“I'm going to be very blunt about this,” Councillor Harley Greenfield told council. “Over the last four or five days we have heard very, very clearly from many of our residents their dissatisfaction with the delivery of services in this municipality. We had between 175 and 180 people in Bognor at a meeting, that's compared to I think 25 for a budget meeting in Woodford. That tells me that the discussion about the twin bridges (bridges 21 and 22) is very, very serious, and very concerning.”
Greenfield noted other infrastructure concerns being expressed by residents who are frustrated with not knowing when or if their road or bridge of concern will be addressed.
“This grant is unconditional, it's one-time, $642,000, and I'm going to introduce a motion that recommends that all $642,000 be directed to the cost of the actual replacement of bridges 21 and 22 and that Concession A will be resurfaced with asphalt (as opposed to the planned tar and chip surface treatment),” Greenfield told council.
Greenfield found the support of council for his amendment to the staff proposal for use of the grant funds for the replacement of bridges 21 and 22 as well as the additional cost to pave Concession A with asphalt rather than tar and chip surface treatment.