The Kinsmen Pedestrian Bridge across the Tillsonburg Kinsmen Participark is in need of repairs and if no maintenance or repairs are done, the service life of the bridge is nearing its end.
That was the determination of an enhanced inspection provided by Vallee Consulting Engineers, completed by the Town of Tillsonburg as part of its provincially mandated structural inspections.
The rusting steel girder structure, which rests on stone blocks, was originally constructed in 1888 to carry rail over Stoney Creek. It was converted to a pedestrian bridge following the abandonment of the railway in the 1990s.
What the Town needed to know is whether or not the bridge is of historical/heritage significance, which will impact what can be done for repairs or replacement.
The Town contracted ASI Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Services to complete a report – and it the answer was yes, the bridge is considered to have heritage value. That report does not immediately grant heritage status, however.
The Town’s options, according to a report filed by Shayne Reitsma, Tillsonburg’s Manager of Engineering, range from closing the bridge ($337,000) to repairing the wood/steel decks ($3.3 million to $3.85 million) to a ‘like for like’ replacement which would create at replica bridge ($4.375 million). Other options include a high elevation replacement pedestrian bridge ($2.25 million) or a valley path replacement with switchback pathways up the embankments ($1.25 million).
“If it’s a heritage structure, then are we bound to replace it or repair it?” asked Councillor Deb Gilvesy at the March 22 council meeting. “Or do we have other options? Maybe replacing it with a ‘like’ bridge?”
Having heritage value means that a heritage committee could deem it a ‘heritage bridge,’ said Reitsma. If that happens, the bridge cannot be demolished and replaced with a new one.
“We’d have to follow the correct heritage deeming processes.”
If it is not deemed a heritage bridge, he said, other much cheaper options are available.
“It’s my understanding that the municipality applies for the heritage designation, and basically decides whether they do or they don’t want a heritage designation on a property,” said Councillor Penny Esseltine.
Esseltine suggested public consultation would be worthwhile.
“If people know that to build ‘like’ again is over $4 million and the cost to build just a walking bridge is $2 million and some, it might be quite a decisive thing for people to have that option to choose,” said Esseltine. “I guess it’s whether we want to save the heritage or make sure that we have a walkway for people across the ravine.”
Council voted to have staff report back with additional steps or information to help advance the project.
Deputy Mayor Dave Beres recalled a potential military training exercise that was investigated in the late 90s across John Pound Road that ultimately was not undertaken.
“Maybe there is a glitter of hope that there might be some assistance if there was a training exercise for Canadian military to do some engineering and some bridge building,” said Beres. “At least it’s worth an investigation. I do know at the time, consideration was given that the municipality would provide the materials and the engineering and the labour would be provided as a training exercise. That could save a considerable amount of money.”