Confederation Bridge in Smiths Falls is a historical landmark, but it was closed in 2015 as the infrastructure was deemed unfit for vehicle traffic.
The one-lane bridge connecting Beckwith Street with Centennial Park and the water tower was once a quick alternative to driving downtown and a pedestrian walkway frequently used along the Rideau Canal.
Director of Public Works and Utilities Troy Dunlop presented a report with four options to fix the bridge at a special meeting of town council’s Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday, Mar. 2.
The first option is building a brand new modern combined pedestrian and traffic bridge at the cost of $2.5 to $3 million. Option two is constructing a waterfront pedestrian bridge for $850,000 without traffic. The third option is to completely refurbish the existing bridge for $1.5 million or to clone the existing bridge by building a new identical one for $1.4 million.
Smiths Falls Mayor Shawn Pankow’s first question to Director Dunlop was, “How do we pay for it?”
“I think we’ve all got a sort of nostalgic attachment to that bridge as it’s been around longer than our lifetimes,” Mayor Pankow said. “The last major rehabilitation was in 1996. It didn’t receive the attention it needed over the decades. There were other priorities that always seemed to rise to the top.”
In 2015, traffic studies were conducted and found that 1,100 cars typically travelled across Confederation Bridge per day. A road with around 3,000 cars travelling down it is considered a collector road.
“At the network level it doesn’t serve a critical network function; it serves a critical convenience function,” Director Dunlop said. “The more traffic we funnel onto Beckwith Street could raise more delays.”
Having a pedestrian or vehicular bridge would help in the summer when the Abbott Street bridge is out to allow boats to pass through the canal, and as construction continues on Beckwith street, opening another route across town.
“There is a left turn pocket turned to Confederation Drive,” Director Dunlop said. “There’s opportunities there we have to be conscious. If we do bring traffic out on Beckwith Street, the sightline to go left doesn’t exist (so) it would be right turn only.”
“I’m not comfortable making a decision until we have a public consultation on the bridge,” Councillor Niki Dwyer said. “ I’m glad everyone acknowledges the historical significance of the bridge. It’s inevitable we’re going to be losing a piece of the heritage because eventually it’s going to need a full replacement.”
Harold Kleywegt, owner of Keystone Bridge Management told council that his staff “Strongly favoured maintaining the appearance of the existing bridge” while also “keeping the existing configuration.”
“I don’t want to raise expectations here today that sometime in the next year we’re going to have a new bridge,” Councillor Peter McKenna said. “This is a multi-million dollar project and without funding. I don’t see a path in the next one to two years when we have the water tower and other infrastructure problems.”
Keystone Bridges collected paint samples from the bridge in the summer of 2019 and tested them for lead. This led to the discovery that each sample had lead levels higher than environmental standards.
Council will vote at the March 16 meeting whether to pass a motion to host a public meeting on the future of Confederation Bridge. Councillor Wendy Alford noted that public input will also be encouraged via the “Speak Up Smiths Falls” page on the town website.