Planners estimate it will be about two years before a preferred concept for the revamp or rebuild of the Taylor Bridge will be ready to bring to provincial decision makers.
The Ministry of Transportation held the first of two virtual public open houses Wednesday afternoon about the future of the bridge, now 60 years old, noting that all options remain on the table.
“That’s business as usual, rehabilitation, and a new structure. All of those three choices have different spectrums of possibilities,” said Greg Bruce, the ministry’s project director for Taylor Bridge. “Our job is to be very thorough so when we take a concept to the decision makers we’ve answered all of those questions that people are thinking of in the back of their minds. If we don’t, we go back to the drawing board.”
Since 1960, the 712-metre two-lane bridge has carried drivers across the Peace River at the same spot where its predecessor collapsed after a 1957 landslide. Today, the bridge’s open steel grid deck requires more than 100 maintenance days per year, at a conservative estimate of $1 million, causing lengthy and costly travel delays to both industry and residents. Though Bruce believes the life of the bridge could probably see another 30 years, he said that would require even more ongoing maintenance.
“The maintenance that we do today it’s important, and I would say that it’s very invasive in terms of impact to the community, but it’s what we do to keep that bridge safe,” Bruce said. “In order to keep it long term we’re going to be requiring more intensive rehabilitation work. What you see today is mainly on the deck, and over time we’ll be requiring work on the structure itself.”
The ministry has kept its study area focused on the bridge’s immediate footprint, around the McMahon gas plant and Peace Island Park. Geotechnical investigations took place at both ends of the bridge this year, as did inspections underneath the bridge, Bruce said.
“People from the Peace in particular will know there’s a lot of slope stability concerns in this area. A project of this magnitude requires significant investigations,” Bruce said, noting the 1957 landslide is indicative of the challenges at the site. “Geotechnical considerations include slope stability in the soil and bedrock, presence of expansive clay, aggressive soils, and other considerations."
Bruce said those on the project team have “top shelf” experience in their field across Canada, having been involved in projects including the Macdonald Bridge in Halifax, as well as the Patullo Bridge, Port Mann Bridge, and the George Massey project in the Lower Mainland. They have also been involved with the Highway 29 projects for BC Hydro and Site C, as well as previous projects on the South Taylor Hill, he said.
"Those are things that actually help us, those robust investigations that are dealing with the same type of issues in the same area," Bruce said.
Investigative field work is continuing through the fall and winter, and traditional land use studies and consultations are also ongoing with Treaty 8 First Nations. Planning will also consider opportunities to improve safety, transit, walking, and cycling.
Draft concepts for the bridge are expected to be made public in the spring and, from there, a business case for a preferred concept will be developed to bring to the provincial government. Any funding decision will be balanced against other priorities such as hospitals, schools, and other highway projects, Bruce said, and if ultimately given the green light, it could take five to six years to have a structure open, he said.
The studies taking place right now will also help inform discussions about potential funding partnerships with both the federal government and First Nations, Bruce said.
“We need to have a concept to take to the federal government to seek partnership with funding,” he said. “With First Nations … the traditional use studies that they’re doing right now will help inform that discussion. To say what those agreements would look like, it’s early, but I can tell you that we’re doing the foundational work to start that conversation and to enter into agreements down the road.”
Bruce noted the current bridge project does not include the South Taylor Hill, which he said will be addressed through other programs.
“My goal is to get that bridge across the finish line and it keeps us really focused,” Bruce said.
A second virtual public open house will take place Thursday, Oct. 21, at 6:30 p.m. To register, click here.
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at email@example.com