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Residents Face Long Wait For New Bridge

Abuckled bridge in the province s southwest corner has residents fuming.

The bridge, which spans the Souris River between Coulter and Waskada on PR 251, suffered extensive damage in early July amid heavy flooding.

Area resident Shirley Kernaghan said that the structure has buckled in the middle, rendering it off limits to vehicle travel.

Because they are located near the U.S. border, residents are faced with a 20-mile detour on a gravel road to get to school or work in other towns, or commute via Melita.

The detour road is terrible, said Kernaghan, adding that almost 100 vehicles were counted recently on the detour within a 90-minute period.

The province has told area residents that the bridge could be fixed within two to four years.

Unwilling to wait that long, Kernaghan helped organize a rally on the bridge in late September which was attended by 150 residents.

Their call for a temporary bridge was rejected by the province, and now she and others are organizing a petition drive in a bid to convince the provincial government to speed up repair work.

Jim Trewin, reeve of Arthur, said that the bridge failure has made things pretty inconvenient for area residents.

That s the last crossing next to the border. When you head south, you re right in the U.S., so we don t have the choice of going that direction, said Trewin.

About 50-60 families are forced to make the detour. His son, who ranches and lives on both sides of the Souris River, has to go 25-30 miles out of his way just to get to his wintering grounds.

Also, the area s booming oil industry is forced to use the detour road, or take the long route through by way of Melita.

With all that traffic, the road is getting a pounding, he added.

It s just vehicle after vehicle, and big trucks. At quitting time it s just a steady stream, said Trewin.

The provincial government has taken over the cost of maintaining the road, which is a mess.

He realizes that replacing a bridge takes time for paperwork, design, and permits before construction can begin, but questions officials claim that a temporary bridge can t be built, even if only until freeze-up.

The army and the oilfield tell us that they could have a bridge in there in three days, said Trewin. But highways won t hear of it. It s the liability, I guess.

A government spokesman acknowledged the inconvenience of the detour routes, but said that replacing the entire structure is the only solution due to significant damage from this year s flood.

Engineering design work for a new bridge is underway, he said, but added that it is not possible at this stage to know when the bridge could be reopened.

A temporary bridge is simply not feasible for a number of reasons.

The fact that it would have to be a long structure makes a temporary bridge impractical given the heavy truck traffic for the oil industry in the area.

Also, it would be very challenging, perhaps impossible, to build a temporary bridge that could withstand ice and the high, fast-moving waters expected next spring, the spokesman said.

Kernaghan blames bridge inspectors for the damage. If they had placed a heavy weight on the bridge during the flooding as requested, it would not have been lifted by the rising waters and the footings under the pillar in the centre could have been saved, she said.

I don t think any bridge engineer or official would come and look at it because they might get their feet wet, said Kernaghan.

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The detour road is terrible.

SHIRLEY

KERNAGHAN

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