THUNDER BAY –- Damage that has kept the James Street Swing Bridge closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic extends well beyond last year's fire, says the city's mayor.
Mayor Keith Hobbs asserts the closure of the CN-owned bridge that links Thunder Bay to the Fort William First Nation is more connected to past maintenance history rather than the Oct. 29, 2013 fire.
“If you look at the engineering report and talk to our engineers, we’re of the opinion the fire didn’t cause the damage CN is claiming,” Hobbs said Friday.
“We think it’s deterioration over time. Past administrations and councils have let CN float and they didn’t really take good responsibility of the bridge so we think it is more wear and tear than fire damage.”
The bridge was re-opened to rail traffic in the days following the fire but vehicles have not been allowed to cross the span since.
CN, the city and Fort William First Nation have been meeting on a regular basis to determine a plan to have the bridge become operational for vehicles. CN and the First Nation exchanged proposals last week.
CN was expected to present a short-term solution on Monday but said they needed to review a Fort William First Nation claim the the company was technically trespassing on at least two road allowances that were exempted from the 1906 agreement.
That has left the city waiting to hear where how the process will play out.
“The latest move by the First Nation has stalled this and I wasn’t aware of that. I was blindsided by it and I wasn’t happy about it,” Hobbs said. “Fort William First Nation has the right to do what they’re going to do but the 1906 agreement is between the city and CN so it’s up to the city to resolve this.”
The mayor insists the city will not be forking over significant money for repairs, saying the costs are the responsibility of CN.
Hobbs added that at this point repairing the existing structure is preferable to building a new bridge.
If the bridge is operational to rail traffic there is no need for a new structure, he said.
“They’re running trains down the middle of that bridge. If they’re running trains down the middle the middle of that bridge they can run vehicular and pedestrian traffic down that bridge,” he said.
The matter will be addressed by city council on July 21 where Hobbs says council will review their options.
Taking the matter to court remains the last resort, Hobbs said.
“I don’t think there are too many councillors who want to go down the legal road however, that being said, you never know what council is going to do,” he said. “We’re going to keep pushing until that bridge is open. That bridge is going to be open one day.”