THUNDER BAY - Cycling advocates continue to push for a safe and convenient way over the McIntyre River to bridge the north and south side of the city and reduce collisions involving cyclists and pedestrians on busy roadways.
“For about 20 years people have been asking for a safe way for a cyclist to get from the north to the south of Thunder Bay with being able to avoid the heavy traffic on Memorial and Balmoral and get people off the sidewalk on Memorial,” said cycling advocate Ken Shields.
Shields was one of more than 30 cyclists who held a ride and rally Monday evening to promote an infrastructure project either on or near the Canadian National Railway bridge near Carrick Street to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists.
There are three options under consideration including a direct route, a diagonal route, and retrofitting the existing CN Rail bridge. Following an environmental assessment, the preferred option was using the existing bridge.
The city has approached the CN and is in discussions with the company about retrofitting the structure.
According to Mike Vogrig, project engineer with the city of Thunder Bay, those discussions are still ongoing.
“We haven’t heard one way or another,” he said. “We haven’t heard: no we are not interested or yes we are interested in this.”
The cost of building a new bridge is estimated to be between $1.2 and $1.4 million, while retrofitting the existing CN bridge would cost approximately $610,000.
The city received more than $900,000 from the Ontario Municipal Commuter Cycling Program in 2017 to fund between 10 and 12 projects that are eligible, including the bridge. According to Vogrig more than $850,000 remains.
“They got a considerable amount of money from the Ontario government and it’s not happening,” Shields said. “It’s not being built.”
The money must be spent by the end of the construction season in 2020 and have final reports prepared by March 2021.
Vogrig said projects such as this cannot happen instantly and progress is being made moving forward with the Active Transportation Plan and the Transportation Master Plan.
“I don’t think it’s a question of it not getting built, just in terms of where it fits in with our priorities,” he said. “It is part of our Active Transportation Plan to have a structure there. But if we are running into delays in terms of timelines or getting something built, for example a separate structure would be very expensive and would require additional funding outside of the OMCC funding, there are a number of other projects within that agreement we could apply the funding to.”
Shields, along with many other cyclists, feel this should be a high priority project for the city because it will serve as a link between the north and south side, promote businesses in the area, and keep cyclists and pedestrians safe.
“If they don’t build it, we don’t grow cycling in Thunder Bay,” he said. “There are a lot of people that would be interested in biking more, but they are nervous about being on Memorial or Balmoral corridor. This is a project that will help us be more sustainable. The more people aren’t driving, the less impact it is to the infrastructure on the road. This is a win-win for the city.”