By Bobbi Ann Brady
If the saga of Caledonia’s Argyle Street bridge reconstruction were a movie, it might be called The NeverEnding Story.
Built in 1927, the bridge is what is known as rainbow arch construction, with the arches made of concrete. The individual arches are longer than typical with this design, and the bridge as a whole is the longest rainbow arch bridge in Ontario, if not in Canada. The push for building a new bridge started in 1925 after a portion of the previous bridge collapsed due to overloading by a truck.
The toll house built on the north side of the river was the toll collector’s residence built by the Hamilton and Port Dover Road Co.—those who crossed the bridge paid to do so.
Nearly a century old, the time for rebuilding the bridge is long past. During an inspection in 2001 by the Ministry of Transportation, it was determined the bridge was deteriorating. The Liberal government of the day didn’t fix the bridge. Former MPP Toby Barrett raised the issue throughout his career and always pointed out the dangers at Haldibrook Road and Highway 6. In 2013, he flagged that the reconstruction of the Caledonia Argyle Street bridge was even then considered long overdue, having been on the ministry’s to-do list since 2001. His pleas fell on the deaf ears of those in power.
The bridge reconstruction is a component of updates to Highway 6 in the Caledonia area. Addressing traffic in the Niagara Peninsula has been part of the Ministry of Transportation plan since the 1950s. The ministry’s plan is for a Mid-Peninsula Highway, a new route in the peninsula to help alleviate traffic problems. In the 1990s, the plan was revived and was going to be fast-tracked by the governments of Premiers Harris and Eves. It was then put on hold by Premier McGuinty.
Due to inaction, load restrictions were put in place and trucks were asked not to use the bridge. As part of this, in 2019, stoplights were put at both ends of the bridge to keep traffic off it in the event fire trucks needed to pass. This restriction, which would slow emergency responders, remains in place until this day. Further, Caledonia’s famed Canada Day parade had to be rerouted so not to traverse the bridge. And in August 2020, the ministry boarded up the toll house and took over the property claiming it was needed as part of the reconstruction process.
Preparation work, which included relocating endangered mussels and other wildlife has been completed. Yet, the ministry issued a release last year stating that the reconstruction project was being delayed yet again.
So, I asked the Minister of Transportation for an update on the bridge reconstruction in the Legislature last week, and what was holding up construction. I was told the project was a priority and they are currently in consultation with First Nations and are preparing for “early work” to preserve the toll house and archeological assets.
The minister told the House that the “early work” was scheduled to start this fall. But toll house is boarded up, endangered wildlife has been relocated, so what is delaying the start of construction?
Yes, the necessary planning needs to be in place, but it’s been 20 years. Let’s hope we get a conclusion to this “NeverEnding Story.” I fear a national headline if we see the sequel to the 1925 collapse.
Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk.