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Market Squared: Farewell and adieu to the Bailey Bridge

In spite of everything its time has come

As a political writer a lot of people ask me about my personal politics. Fair question though it may be, I’ve never been a member of a political party, and I’ve voted for candidates across all parties and political stripes.

“Pragmatic” is what I say now when people ask me about my politics. I believe in 'hope for the best,' and 'expect the worst,' and when all else fails, 'make a good decision based on evidence.'

Which is why in the case of the Niska Rd. bridge I say, despite the passion of the community, let it die.

Last week came the news that many have been dreading, the old Bailey Bridge installed along Niska Rd. over the Speed River in the 70s has been deemed too dangerous to be allowed to operate into the spring months, when the increased river flow from melting and spring rains threaten the integrity of the abutments that hold it up.

Of course, having said that, I left the house today in just a sport coat and a quick check of social media just now shows that the bridge still stands, despite spring coming early, so...

Still, this was a long time in coming. Council made decision about the future of the Bailey bridge back in December 2015, a controversial 9-4 decision that decided that the bridge would be replaced by a new two-lane structure with other improvements made to Niska Road in the process.

In all, 22 people came out to register their disgust at the possibility, but council proceeded with the replacement option due to increased traffic in the area and the deteriorating condition of the bridge. Some of you, I know, are still upset about that, but it’s time to let it go.

Why? Pragmatism.

The City of Guelph engineers have effectively pulled the plug on it. There’s nothing more that can be done for this patient. It’s a vegetable. A vegetable that could collapse at the wrong time and send a car into the Speed River, you know, like what happened in 1974.

But the point is that she’s been pushed to the limit. That’s Canadian engineering for you! This thing lasted the length of almost 12 World War IIs, the era that it was designed and built in.

To paraphrase the old farmer in Babe, “That’ll do, Bailey. That’ll do.”

And it’s not like I’m unsympathetic with those that fought the good fight, and the ones that are still trying.

Residents asked for a Phase II Order request from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change on the City’s plan, and their decision is pending, but in the meantime the bridge can literally not stand anymore, or at least City’s not feeling liable enough to try.

As I said last week, the point of democracy is that you’re heard, not that you always win. Nobody wins 100 per cent of the time, and its unreasonable to expect that you will.

The attempt though, was a noble one. You will never find anyone more car hating than me, which is why I cheered the effort in full realization that the Bailey Bridge was probably going to be replaced, and when it was, it was not going to be with another one-lane bridge. Pragmatism. People are using Niska Rd. as a convenient shortcut between the Hanlon and Highway 24, and the bridge is an essential part of that. Despite the fondest desires of area residents to keep their quiet abode the same as it ever was, the size of Guelph is creeping in on them.

The only other solution open to the area at this point is to say no more traffic in this area. Can you see how well that would go down? I was waiting for the bus in St. Georges Square and somebody parked in the bus stop to go to the post office. I said to him that he had parked in a no parking zone and that the bus was due to come by any minute, he told me to... Well, I’m not going to write on GuelphToday what he told me to do. Naturally, the bus came and things were uncomfortable, but hey, that guy had a car and when you have a car you can do what you want, right?

And look at the construction on Gordon St. south of Wellington last spring. I personally saw a car drive through the construction zone until it got around the curve near the bridge only to discover that yes, all those construction signs saying that the road was closed were, in fact, correct. The road was closed. While out for a walk, I see people drive up Silvercreek Pkwy S. and pass all those “dead end ahead” signs only to discover that yes, the road does in fact end. It’s not a test guys, I think to myself.

Unless we’re going to radically reshape the culture and start saying certain areas of the city are going be inaccessible by cars — which I would love by the way — we have to compromise. No one was talking about putting a four-lane freeway down Niska Rd., we’re just saying that in a developing area with an increase in local traffic, having the same rickety one-lane bridge is no longer feasible. And let’s be honest, no one wants to see another lawsuit come to City Hall when someone’s ride inevitably ends up in the drink.

Now having said that, for those concerned about the effect of a new two lane bridge on the neighbourhood and the local environment, it’s incumbent on you to hold council and City staff to account on rebuilding the bridge and doing it responsibly to balance neighbourhood concerns and the reality of traffic in the area. Proposals for the new bridge seem to go out of their way to be a part of the neighbourhood’s character and not just a blah piece of concrete over the river.

Unfortunately, the time has come to say goodbye to the Bailey Bridge. Every dog has his day, and so does every bridge, and the time has come to face the reality that nothing lasts forever.

There will be a new bridge, it will be two lanes, and life will go on. Unless the City wants to replace the bridge with a ramp and you can jump the Speed Dukes of Hazzard style, but I have a feeling there might be some legal issues there too.