The bridge will cost an estimated $14 million to replace, with costs shared equally between the Region and CN Rail. The divestment would occur after reconstruction is complete. Photo Credit: The Niagara Independent.
Niagara Region’s Public Works Committee met last week to begin to determine the fate of the St. Paul Street West Canadian CN Rail bridge in St. Catharines upon the completion of its reconstruction.
The bridge has fallen into a state of disrepair despite its important role in facilitating traffic movement in the west end of St. Catharines.
At the outset of the public works committee meeting, Councillor Bob Gale questioned why the bridge had not been replaced sooner as it had been in poor shape for years, if not decades.
“We would have known 25 years ago if this bridge had to be replaced,” said Gale.
Niagara Region’s commissioner of public works, Terry Ricketts, blamed CN Rail, noting that the company had not been a willing partner in working with government to improve the state of the bridge.
“CN wasn’t the most eager partner,” Ricketts noted.
Ricketts also pointed out that CN Rail owns the bridge, so the maintenance and upkeep process up until this point had been a responsibility of the company, not the municipality.
Ricketts argued that it made sense for the region to take ownership of the bridge to ensure that necessary repairs are made much faster in the future.
“It’s our road, our infrastructure, and our community that uses it,” said Ricketts. “We need to act much faster than we were able to in this case.”
Ricketts estimates that repairs will take a year or two to be completed. For safety reasons, the bridge has been closed to traffic since November. The original plan had been for the bridge to stay open until actual work was being done on the bridge, but an early shutdown was necessary for safety.
The reconstruction is currently in the design phase. Region bureaucrats estimate that construction will get underway later this year.
Ricketts noted that repairs do take longer in this case because it is directly above an active railway.
Gale expressed concern for local businesses. He mentioned that many businesses barely survived the pandemic and will now have to deal with the bridge’s closure for at least another year.
The offer presently on the table from CN Rail is for the company to pay the Region $1.5 million to have the Region take over ownership of the bridge. That includes assuming full responsibility for maintenance.
Region bureaucrats estimate that the $1.5 million, if adequately invested over time, will be able to pay for 150 years of bridge maintenance, including one replacement at 75 years.
Councillor Bill Steele remained skeptical of the agreement with CN Rail and said it was a “sweetheart deal” for the company.
Until this point, the Region had been responsible for paving the deck of the bridge only. CN Rail was in charge of maintaining the structure. Because the bridge was not owned by the government, a lack of investment on the part of CN Rail led to the bridge’s present state of disrepair.
The bridge will cost an estimated $14 million to replace, with costs shared equally between the Region and CN Rail. The divestment would occur after reconstruction is complete.
The public works committee voted to recommend that CN Rail’s divestment be allowed to go forward. Now the whole council will have to consider the committee’s recommendation to have the Region take over the ownership of the bridge.
Jay Goldberg is the Ontario Director at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He previously served as a policy fellow at the Munk School of Public Policy and Global Affairs. Jay holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Toronto.