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'For the sake of safety': Examining the potential future of the Arlington Street Bridge

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The Arlington Street Bridge could be closed for months, even years, if it reopens at all. It all depends on the results of a feasibility study.

The city shut down the 121-year-old structure indefinitely on Tuesday citing safety concerns – meaning it is no longer open to vehicles, pedestrians or cyclists.

Virgil Mason likes to walk on the bridge multiple times a day for exercise. He said having it closed is impacting people on both sides.

"You take this one artery away, it screws up everything," said Mason.

The bridge was supposed to be decommissioned in 2020 and replaced with a new $300 million structure, but there was no money in the budget for a new bridge, which lead to ongoing repairs to keep it open.

Now the city says an assessment has determined steel corrosion has accelerated to the point where it is no longer viable to make those annual repairs.

"We've closed it down for the sake of safety," said Mayor Scott Gillingham.

That assessment is part of an $850,000 feasibility study that is expected in a few months. The study will determine if a new bridge is warranted, if cheaper upgrades can be done to push the lifespan or remove it entirely and instead widen the nearest crossing at the McPhillips underpass and the Salter Bridge.

Coun. Janice Lukes, who is the chair of the public works committee, said all of the options will take years to complete.

"The fastest solution would be upgrading Salter and McPhillips," said Lukes.

The closure is also prompting questions as to why it has got to this point.

"Everybody is saying it was inevitable. It's been inevitable for years and year," said area councillor Ross Eadie.

Eadie thinks the city needs to find the money and build a new bridge.

"Take the steel down from the darn bridge right now. Take it to the scrap yard and let's get started and ready to replace it."

Gillingham mentioned that previous councils and the current council have had to make difficult decisions on capital projects.

As for how this closure is going to impact services, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service says it is well situated to continue to provide a quick response to residents on both sides of the bridge.

The closure has also reignited the debate about relocating the rail lines in the area.

Gillingham said he has had discussions with Liberal MP Dan Vandal and will talk about it again in the future. Lukes questions why the federal government would spend billions to do this and Eadie is against the potential relocation as it might take rail jobs elsewhere.

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