The construction of a two-track bridge to replace the Margaret Avenue Bridge in Kitchener, Ont. is moving forward, after city council delayed the decision in June to consider the provincial government’s proposal for a high speed train.
"It has been frustrating that we have had to hold off, but it was still prudent to postpone this decision while we waited for this recommendation," said Kitchener mayor Carl Zehr in a press release.
"From the province's standpoint, I understand they can't make statements about future rail, given the need for an environmental assessment. We now have what we have and this is the best decision we can make at this time, and I fully support this decision."
Kitchener city council voted unanimously at a special council meeting on Aug. 11 to build a two-track structure.
A staff report to council on June 30, outlined options for council to consider with respect to the size of the bridge. This re-evaluation of the bridge's design was generated by several announcements by the provincial government about enhanced passenger rail service between Kitchener and Toronto.
These announcements included plans to increase GO Train service between Kitchener and Toronto, and plans for High Speed Rail in the London- Kitchener- Toronto corridor.
As a result, city staff were directed to proceed with the design of a longer three track structure, and to explore options for additional funding from other levels of government.
But, Steve Allen, the city's manager, engineering design and approvals, said in a report to council that there is not enough information available to consider the construction of a larger structure at this time.
"GO Transit re-confirmed that the proposed bridge opening (two-track option) is sufficient to meet their needs now and for the expansion to two-way all-day GO train service," said Allen.
"Although High Speed Rail (HSR) is under consideration, Metrolinx's immediate focus will be updating and expanding GO rail infrastructure and service."
According to Allen, construction of a longer bridge (three-track option) will reduce the potential need to rebuild the bridge, to increase rail capacity, before the end of its lifespan.
However, given the early stage of planning for HSR, there is a degree of uncertainty that this configuration will accommodate HSR.
"Further, construction of a three-track span does not eliminate the possibility of the bridge being removed in order to accommodate further, yet unplanned expansions in the corridor, including high speed rail," said Allen.
"Lastly, given that the city has not received any external commitments for funding on the longer bridge, the additional funding required for a longer bridge would be diverted from other immediate needs such as the road resurfacing program."
Given this situation, staff concluded that the most appropriate action would be to construct the two-track option.
The 2014 capital budget has approved $6,268,000 for the removal and the replacement of the Margaret Avenue Bridge.
The city is planning to advertise tenders for the new bridge on Aug. 28, and award the contract for construction on Sept. 29. Construction is scheduled to start on Oct. 20 with the bridge completion estimated for the summer of 2015.
The width of the proposed bridge opening (two-track) is based on guidelines that govern railways in Canada. This opening will only accommodate two, two- tracks based on these guidelines.
However, GO Transit recently stated that this proposed envelope can be configured for three, three-tracks. This would be accomplished by relaxing standards for horizontal clearances and accepting any related impact to operability of the trains under the bridge.
Former Transportation Minister Murray indicated in late April 2014 that an environmental assessment for High Speed Rail may begin fall 2014. This was confirmed by Premier Kathleen on July 15, after the provincial election.
The Margaret Avenue Bridge has been closed since June 2013 following the receipt of a structural engineers' report recommending it be closed immediately.
Subsequently, the bridge was removed in the fall of 2013 and a consultant was retained to design a replacement bridge.