MTO provides councillors with an update on plans for Norris Whitney Bridge

(Gazette file photo)

Twinning existing span between Rossmore, Belleville preferred



One of Prince Edward County’s major access points could double in size.

Ministry of Transportation planning and design project manager Glenn Higgins gave councillors an update on plans for the Norris Whitney Bridge during last Thursday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting.

The ministry is currently seeking and reviewing public comments on the proposed rehabilitation alternatives as part of an environmental assessment process.

Higgins said the existing Norris Whitney Bridge was built in the 1980s. At more than 30 years old, it’s approaching the need for a functional rehabilitation. About 15,000 vehicles cross the 900-metre long bridge daily and, with only one lane in each direction, Higgins said it would be difficult to shut any one lane down for an extended period of time.

This summer the ministry will be doing some minor repairs while more long-term options are assessed. Higgins said the deck of the bridge needs to be rehabilitated, but otherwise it’s in good condition. However, because of traffic volume and projected increased use, the structure also has to be expanded.

The bridge is long, narrow, and high, Higgins said, and alternatives of squeezing more lanes onto the existing structure have been discussed. The ministry has also considered building a completely new bridge to meet current and projected needs. Neither option has seemed ideal at this point, he said.

“In terms of solutions at this point, we’re really looking at one plan: Build a sister bridge next to it with a two- or three-lane cross section,” he said.

Building a sister bridge, or twinning, would allow the construction to take place away from traffic. Once the new bridge is complete, traffic could be shifted to the new structure while the existing infrastructure is rehabilitated more thoroughly.

“When all is said and done, we end up with two structures with a least four lanes across, plus pedestrian walkways, plus dedicated active transportation systems,” Higgins said. “That’s where we are today.”

The ministry held a public information session in Belleville on Dec. 14 and the public comment period is expected to wrap up shortly. Once the comment period is closed, the ministry will be examining the communities’ thoughts on the options.

“Hopefully, we’re going to get some general support saying, ‘yes, twin the bridge,’ in which case we’ll have to figure out, do we twin it to the east or do we twin it to the west — we’re not there yet,” said Higgins. “Once we get the public input and agency input, hopefully a solution will arise.”

Since there will be more lanes coming off the crossing into the county, Higgins said the ministry will have to work with the municipality on a way to transition from four lanes to two.

“The road itself is two lanes, so somewhere between the bridge and Shire Hall, we’re going to need to figure out how to go from four lanes down to two and that will be part of the conversation we will have,” he said.

The new bridge is expected to include dedicated bicycle and pedestrian access and Higgins said there is also opportunity to include bump-outs for benches or view points.

“All of this is still to be worked on,” he said.

Sophiasburgh councillors Bill Roberts and Kevin Gale expressed some exasperation, suggesting the upcoming rehabilitation of County Rd. 49’s Skyway Bridge seems lacking when compared to what’s planned for the Norris Whitney.

Roberts said in principle he’s pleased residents will have access to cross the bridge whether they’re driving, cycling, or on foot. However, he said when the County requested a new bridge to replace the Skyway, he felt the idea was given “the bum’s rush.”

“How come one set of things applies to the Belleville connection and a very diminished set of circumstances applies to the safety and wellbeing on the 49 Skyway and Sophiasburgh?” he asked.

Gale questioned how he is expected to go back to his constituents and explain that a new bridge will be built next to Belleville while a short distance away on County Rd. 49 another bridge is going to be limited to one-lane traffic for the next five years.

“To me it’s kind of slap in the face,” he said. “I’m just having a hard time with this.”

Higgins explained the ministry sees the projects as fundamentally different.

“The amount of truck and vehicle traffic going across the Norris Whitney Bridge is three times the amount of traffic going across the Skyway Bridge,” he said, noting that about 5,000–6,000 vehicles cross the Skyway daily.

He said there is significant pedestrian demand on the Norris Whitney Bridge that is measurable on a daily basis. A pedestrian traffic count was conducted on the Skyway and only one individual was identified during that period, Higgins said.

“This is not a case of different standards for different communities,” he said.

Higgins explained that no work would take place on the Norris Whitney Bridge until the ministry has completed the Skyway project. That project is anticipated to be tendered by this spring and will begin with some preparatory work through 2018 with the main five-year construction period to commence by spring 2019.

Higgins also gave the committee an update on planned improvements to the Hwy. 401 corridor through Belleville. He said all of the overpass and interchange structures going through Belleville were constructed in the 1960s and are approaching the end of their functional life.

“There is no extra bits you can add onto those, so they really need to be replaced,” he said.

The ministry is studying current and future needs for the interchanges and overpasses to determine the width and length the structures should be. While there are no current plans to widen the 401 through Belleville, he said the ministry is planning for the structures assuming they will have to cross six lanes and possibly eight in the future.

Aside from structural issues, Higgins said there are also operational problems with the interchanges at Hwy. 62 and Hwy. 37. The possibility of closing the Hwy. 37 interchange, leaving it as an overpass, and building a new interchange further to the east has also been discussed.