Weight of bridge itself, not walkers the issue: city

Engineers do not recommend short-term fix for 100-year-old bridge

By Valerie Rossi

Times Staff

Expanding the life of the Old Bridge for up to 15 years would cost residents about $10 million, Trail city council heard Monday night.

City staff have just completed an in-depth report on Trail’s second crossing, which compares the projected costs of building a full replacement bridge for $20 million, creating a pedestrian suspension bridge for $6.5 million or repairing the old structure for $10 million.

The engineering company that has long looked after the 100-year structure does not recommend rehabilitating the existing crossing, which will actually cost the most annually based on its lifespan.

Buckland and Taylor Ltd. estimated that the short-term fix breaks  $667,000 per year over the 15-year life expectancy, compared to $226,000 annually for the 75 years a new vehicle bridge could be expected to last, or $86,000 each year over 75 years of life for a new pedestrian bridge.

“This is a public issue, I’m sure even in this council there would be divided opinions on this issue, just like the public,” said Trail Mayor Dieter Bogs, who wants to assure locals that the future of a second crossing is entirely up to them.

The Old Bridge was closed permanently in the fall after an inspection revealed significant deterioration of the steel shells surrounding its piers.

While the city is still accepting online surveys and mailed-in questionnaires pertaining to whether residents wish to invest in a new bridge and at what cost, city administrator David Perehudoff said there is virtually no public interest in the pedestrian crossing option.

The tax bill will vary for each home, dependant on property value. To build a new vehicular bridge,   residents can expect to fork over about $100 per $100,000 of assessed property value while the cost of a pedestrian crossing would work out to about $30 per $100,000 of assessed value for the 30-year borrowing period.

Should residents want to maintain the old structure, the estimated annual debt payment to borrow $10 million overs 15 years at five per cent interest comes out at $999,500, which tallies out to about $70 per $100,000 assessment.

Some people have suggested the city should levy the same tax on each residence rather than an assessment-based tax, but this is neither possible nor recommended, explained Perehudoff.

“As far as a flat or parcel tax goes, there is no legislated authority that would allow the city to proceed on this basis,” he said. “Further, by proceeding in this manner, it would actually end up costing most homeowners considerably more because major industry would be paying 50 per cent of the annual debt cost based on the financing scenario previously presented and this funding would effectively be lost if the city could move to a parcel or flat tax.”

A clear picture of public opinion will be made once the city tabulates the public input and presents a report in May. Then council can consider investing in a professional poll or, if there is already a clear consensus from the informal approach, the city may choose to bring this option to referendum in November.

Council will need to decide to hold a referendum on the issue by mid-August.

In the meantime, however, there has been a tremendous support for restoring the historical bridge, hence the city’s commitment to providing the public with more information on why it’s not seen as economically viable.

Holding some sentimental value with residents, the city has recently looked into whether it can open the bridge to pedestrian traffic, explained Perehudoff. It was found that the weight of the structure itself is the major factor looked at and little changes when engineers consider people crossing on foot rather than in their vehicles.

“As part of doing this, the city needed to verify that there was no public safety risk and further should anything occur that the city’s liability insurance would cover this,” said Perehudoff.  “The engineer would not provide any sort of written assurance that the bridge could be opened under specific conditions. Therefore, the city’s liability insurance policy would not necessarily cover a loss and therefore the bridge must remain closed.”

A major problem with the bridge is the deterioration of the river piers and the connecting piece between the piers called a strut, which holds the two piers in place. The steel from the strut is corroded and the concrete inside the strut has been reduced to loose gravel.

The steel chord that extends from pier to pier, providing support for the entire bridge deck, also needs repair. The poor condition of the chord was the main reason why the bridge closed in 1999 for repairs.

But the steel chord has continued to crumble over the past 10 years and was scheduled for major repair last year but the work was cancelled when engineers then brought forward news about the condition of the piers, which led to closure of the bridge.

The bridge has received a major inspection every five years and an underwater check annually.

If a new bridge is on the horizon, it’s estimated that it would cost about $3 million to demolish the old crossing, which is considered in the $20 million cost of a replacement bridge. But should this job be done apart from a new build, it would cost about $5 million.

“We inherited the bridge in 1962 with already 50 years of life, we’ve had it for 50 years,” said Bogs. “As far as I’m concerned, the province has to come up with 50 per cent of the cost, it’s more of my expectation.”

The new information will be presented at upcoming open houses held in council chambers April 4 and 21 from 3-7 p.m. For more information on the bridge, visit www.trail.ca