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Province weighing options for century-old Digby County bridge

People who live near the bridge say it is an important traffic route and a social gathering place. (Jacy Lewis - image credit)
People who live near the bridge say it is an important traffic route and a social gathering place. (Jacy Lewis - image credit)

Provincial officials presented several options to the public for the future of the Gates Lane bridge in Weymouth Mills, N.S., at a community meeting this weekend.

The bridge, which was abruptly blocked off earlier this month with concrete barricades, likely needs to be replaced, according to Dan Leopold, who represented the Department of Public Works at the meeting.

Rehabilitation is on the table, but Leopold said he's not confident it would work.

"The bridge is 121 years old, well past its anticipated lifespan," he said. "We've done maintenance over the years and we continue to do maintenance, but at some point in time it just catches up and a new structure is warranted."

Concrete barricades appeared on each side of the Gates Lane bridge earlier this month, to the surprise of community members. Nova Scotia Department of Public Works said after 121 years, the bridge is no longer safe to use.
Concrete barricades appeared on each side of the Gates Lane bridge earlier this month, to the surprise of community members. Nova Scotia Department of Public Works said after 121 years, the bridge is no longer safe to use.

Concrete barricades appeared on each side of the Gates Lane bridge earlier this month. (Submitted by Ann Lewis)

The province has already done some assessments of the bridge's condition, but it will soon embark on a "much more involved" structural review.

If the decision is to replace the old structure, the province is considering two options. One is a Bailey bridge, which is a prefabricated, portable bridge. It would be the cheaper and faster option, but would not last as long as the second option, which is to design and construct a new bridge from scratch.

Another option is to keep the bridge for pedestrians only, with no vehicle traffic.

Leopold said the structural review will take several months. He said he expects to have a clearer picture of the bridge's fate by this summer.

He said more than 100 people attended a town hall about the Gates Lane bridge in Weymouth on Saturday morning. He said he thought most people favoured the Bailey bridge.

Community anxious for replacement

That's true of Margaret Smith, who crossed daily on her commute to work until the bridge closed. She said she likes the idea of a Bailey bridge because it seems to be the quickest way to reopen a crossing for vehicles.

Smith said the bridge is "an extremely important part of the community," not only for commuters, but for recreation. She said she goes to the bridge often with her grandchildren.

"We walk down there, especially in the summer time. We'll go down there and we use the bridge to hang out on. We've had flash mob dances on there."

A one way bridge on Gates Lane in the Weymouth area was closed Wednesday, but it is not known for how long or if it will reopen.
A one way bridge on Gates Lane in the Weymouth area was closed Wednesday, but it is not known for how long or if it will reopen.

The single-lane steel truss bridge is 121 years old, well past its expected lifespan, according to provincial officials. (Steve Skafte)

Smith said she heard a sense of urgency from provincial officials, but she has doubts about how quickly they'll act.

"I wanna believe it," she said. "But from the experience of what we've had with the bridge closing all of a sudden, I'm kind of skeptical about it."

Ann Lewis, who lives about 45 metres from the bridge, also harboured some skepticism about the province's plans.

"If it takes way too long, it's closed for too long, then they're going to say, 'Oh well, you got used to it not being here.' And that's what nobody wants to allow [to] happen."

Smith said all the options presented seem reasonable.

"The bigger question is how quick and how fast can those options be put into place considering the condition the bridge is in."

Leopold said Public Works will share as much information as possible with the community over the coming months as it narrows down its options.

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