Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 1, 2015
There is plenty of reason to believe we are witnessing the final days of the Eighth Street bridge.
Mired deep down on the priority list, as well as being the only bridge that rests solely on the shoulders of the taxpayers of this city proves we may have driven upon it for the last time. Not good for the residents of the city’s north end whose life may become very different without their primary active corridor.
The Eighth Street bridge has been a low priority for some time and its deterioration cannot be saddled on one single council. For more than a decade questions have risen at a civic level about the need and or cost to do remediation work, and ultimately what the bridges fate would be.
It has been a small-time pawn in a bigger discussion and now appears to be on the chopping block as funds may be diverted to share in other solely provincial responsibilities, namely the First and 18th Street bridges. For what it is worth, the forensics are not back on the structure, but many appear to already be preparing the post- mortem to deliver to the residents of this city.
In doing a bit of digging we can see how the current council may act regarding the Eighth Street bridge when its fate comes before council. In a Brandon Chamber of Commerce questionnaire circulated among candidates during the last civic election, the numbers reflected that five eventual members of council supported the reconstruction and/or repair of the bridge. Councillors Jeff Fawcett, Kris Desjarlais, Jon LoRegio, Jeff Harwood and Ron Brown all supported some form of remediation work to make the bridge usable for years to come. The others were a combination of negative, noncommittal responses, and/or no responses at all.
You have to wonder whether the current situation may cause some of those aforementioned five to already change their minds. It is difficult to garner that same level of support with the cost being rumoured to be more than $50 million for total replacement, or slightly less for Band-Aid type fixes that are not yet known. At election time there was talk of reserve funds for the Eighth Street bridge repair, but that money would be a far cry from a $50 million-plus price tag.
As much as many believe it is needed, the city is poorly served to spend money on more short-term fixes to make the bridge functional again in the interim. Either provide a long-term solution for the corridor via a walkway or rebuild, or just chalk it up to previous councils and the provincial government continuing to make this connection and this city’s north end a lower priority.
It also does not bode well for its fate that neither the provincial government nor the city has a great history when it comes to bridges. Delays on both the project and funding side set construction of the David Thompson Bridge back years. And with the First Street bridge in dire need of repair before the initial link of the 18th Street bridge is complete, you have to think the Eighth Street bridge will be dust by the time both its counterparts are fully operational.
It is truly unfortunate that this appears to be another one of the city’s links to yesteryear that goes by the wayside. For far too long Brandon was bent on removal of anything with historical significance. By no means am I saying the bridge is a historical landmark, as there are many entities in the community with more significance to our collective history. What it is though is a show of support connecting the proud community that exists in the city’s north end.
As the First Street bridge and Daly Overpass see their projects begin in 2017 and 2018 respectively, the Eighth Street bridge is likely to continue to languish, closed and deteriorating. The hope is that it is still not awaiting a final fate at that time. If this truly is the death knell for the Eighth Street bridge, then letting it languish only furthers what would become a civic eyesore.
The bridge had a good run. In its current form for close to 50 years it was an artery for a historically significant community accessing the heart of the city. It is hoped that this closure and lack of upkeep is not indicative of other long-term changes afoot. We have cut the flow to a main artery feeding the heart of this community; now we hope the heart itself isn’t the next to be put on life support.