Motorists, cyclists and pedestrians are once again able to travel along a major Saanich road after the district opened a new bridge to the public.
Vehicles started crossing the new Wilkinson bridge Friday afternoon, almost nine months after contractors had started to replace its aging predecessor as part of a project that also upgraded bicycle and foot travel along Wilkinson Road where it crosses Colquitz River near Lindsay.
Notwithstanding some exceptions, this project prevented continuous travel along Wilkinson Road, thereby pushing travellers onto alternative routes.
Some 15,000 vehicles crossed the bridge daily prior to the start of construction, and district officials expect that the new bridge will handle a similar figure.
Harley Machielse, director of engineering, said the Wilkinson bridge replacement and Colquitz Trail extension replaces a “critical piece of transportation infrastructure,” while providing new bike lanes, sidewalks, trails and upgrades to utility services. “Opening the bridge to the public is a major milestone for this project and we appreciate the public’s co-operation throughout the construction process,” he said.
The project also extended parts of the trail popular with pedestrians that runs along Colquitz River.
Friday’s opening of the new Wilkinson bridge closed a chapter in the transportation history of Saanich. Its predecessor with its distinct blue railings first opened in 1935 and served for decades as a major link along Wilkinson Road, which forms a part of the road triangle created by Wilkinson Road, West Saanich Road and Interurban Road.
Concrete efforts to replace the bridge began in May 2012 after a consultant had identified structural deficits in its concrete walls, poor pedestrian access on the east side of the bridge, and “moderate vulnerability” in the case of a seismic event.
The former bridge’s adjoining wooden sidewalk, with blue painted railings, sat a few feet below the road and was the only separated lane for cyclists and pedestrians on that section of Wilkinson.
“We’ve got an old bridge, we’ve got old infrastructure, and if we don’t deal with it, the next generation of taxpayers would either have a big bill or failed bridge,” then Saanich mayor Frank Leonard told the Saanich News in March 2013. “We can turn it into an asset for many decades to come.”
Following planning, design and an open house soliciting public feedback, Saanich council eventually approved the project in May 2016. Approved budget plans allocated a total of $6.5 million towards the entire project, with $4.3 million going towards the bridge replacement portion of the work and $700,000 going towards the trail extension portion. Various services including project design, geotechnical and environmental services account for the remainder of about $1.7 million.
Kelsie McLeod, a spokesperson for Saanich, said it is difficult for the district to say how much of the funds remain unspent. “But most of the work budget has been spent as we have completed the bulk of the work on the project,” she said. “Remaining costs will be attributed to minor tasks, planting, landscaping [and so on].”
As for the old bridge, a concrete box culvert, contractors have cut it into pieces and disposed of it off site.
Local reaction to the opening was positive.
“It will definitely get traffic patterns back to normal,” said Peter Cavin, director with Country Grocer on West Saanich Road. “It was harder to get in and out of the shopping centre,” he said.