I am willing to bet if a city-wide vote were taken as to what should happen with the Traffic Bridge, with the options being a full-service crossing, pedestrian/bicyclist only or tear it down and save $30 million, the answer would be to tear it down.
How many times does this matter have to be debated and discussed before it is put to rest? Didn’t the lobby group for a restricted pedestrian/cyclist bridge know that the City had already hosted open house meetings, conducted surveys, and engaged in public consultations and design competitions? Ultimately a decision was been made by council, and approved by the Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA), to build a full-service pseudo-replica bridge, modified with ample provision for pedestrians and cyclists.
When the bridge was closed four years ago, residents of old Nutana, me included, were greatly stressed and hoping for a quick response to repair and re-open the crossing. Aside from the historical aspect, it was an important ingress/egress consideration for residents. Since that time residents have found alternative routes and have started to enjoy the quiet and solitude resulting from reduced traffic. Although four years ago it was unsettling to note that access for emergency vehicles to some area homes was via Eastlake or MacPherson Avenues, both being steep roadways riddled with potholes and parking problems, that concern has somewhat dissipated with the re-opening of Saskatchewan Crescent.
The City has also flagged that both the University and Broadway bridges are in need of extensive repair and that the Traffic Bridge will be necessary to move vehicular traffic during those shutdowns. Add to the equation the City’s long-range plans to grow the city centre area to a population base of 20,000 residents and it makes sense that, if there is to be a bridge, it should be a full-service bridge. But have the traffic patterns changed and been reduced with the opening of the Circle Drive South Bridge? If so, will the University, Broadway and Buckwold bridges be sufficient to meet the future needs of city centre residents?
I might understand the concerns of the pedestrian/cyclist groups if provision had not been made to accommodate their needs, but there has been. The bridge plan also accommodates pedestrian/cyclist access to the parks and MVA river trails. Yet these groups are hell bent on a bridge of their own which, in all likelihood, will have little use for about half of any given year.
What is troubling about this discussion is Mayor Don Atchison’s comments that this city needs more bridges if we wish to avoid traffic congestion. He fed my worst fear that each new neighbourhood built in Saskatoon is going to need its own bridge. New bridges, with the necessary roadway infrastructure, are currently pricing in at between $200-300 million. Is it not possible to build one massive eight- or 10-lane bridge with roadway planning from new areas to feed into such a bridge?
Perhaps this council should invite roadway engineers in from Edmonton, Calgary or Ottawa for a lesson on traffic planning. Edmonton enjoys the beautiful North Saskatchewan River running through its boundaries. Edmonton has a population base of more than a million people and nine bridges. Calgary boasts having both the magnificent Bow and Elbow rivers, has a population of more than a million people and has four bridges. Ottawa is home to the Rideau River and Canal, is bordered by the Ottawa River with the City of Gatineau, Quebec, on the other side. It is home to close to a million people and has five bridges.
Saskatoon and area is home to roughly 250,000 folks and, with the reconstruction of the Traffic Bridge and construction of a north commuter bridge, will have eight bridges. What’s wrong with this picture? Ironically, Prince Albert, the gateway to northern Saskatchewan and all its natural resources, has one bridge.
Worse yet was consummate politician (and rumoured to be future mayoralty candidate) Coun. Charlie Clark playing both ends against the middle, suggesting to the pedestrian/cyclist groups that there is a possibility of a future council closing a $30-million full-service bridge to vehicle traffic. Yet he is an MVA board member and the board voted unanimously to support the City’s position of a full-service bridge. This is not stellar leadership.
The Traffic Bridge, an icon of our history, is now derelict and has become an eyesore in Saskatoon. Four years ago I might have tied myself to the tresses of the Traffic Bridge to save it. Today I’m not too sure that the bridge is worth reconstructing and suspect further decay has occurred and the cost will be much higher than anticipated. What I am sure of is that $30 million is too much money to spend on a quaint pedestrian/cyclist bridge.
As painful as it may be, sometimes you just have to say goodbye to the past and hello to the future.