Closure of bridge in Marystown makes it challenging for those in shelter care to access critical services
The Canning Bridge in Marystown used to connect residents on the town's south side to the town's north side, where all of its grocery stores, restaurants and shops are located.
Now, the bridge is closed indefinitely to vehicle traffic. It's taking a toll on residents, including women and children living in shelter care at the Grace Sparkes House, which sits on the town's south side, away from many critical services.
"It's a struggle for us," said Lisa Slaney, the executive director of the Grace Sparkes House, a shelter for women and children fleeing family violence.
"Being able to support women and children the way we have in the past has certainly become straining."
The Canning Bridge on Route 220 closed on Feb. 10 after routine inspections were completed to determine the safety of the bridge. In a press release, the provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastructure said the closure is necessary because of a reduction in the bridge's maximum load limit. The bridge currently remains open to foot traffic and cyclists.
In an interview with CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show, Marystown mayor Brian Keating said the bridge is not going to be repaired. It falls under provincial jurisdiction and has to be replaced completely, he said, a process that could take three to five years to complete.
There's another bridge that connects the town's south and north sides, but it's much farther down the highway and farther away from the town's center and business district.
Slaney says the shelter has always depended on taxis to transport women and children from both sides of the town. But what used to be a six to seven kilometre drive is now around a 30 kilometre drive, which Slaney says is taking a toll on the shelter's finances.
"We're certainly not going to be able to stay within budget for this fiscal year," said Slaney, who says trying to keep up with the rising costs of gas and transportation has been challenging for the shelter.
No end in sight
Slaney says the shelter pays for residences' taxi bills through government grants and other funding. She says the bridge closure is making the cost of taxi rides skyrocket — for instance, a trip from the shelter to mental health walk-in services located on the town's north side now costs around $40 to $45, opposed to $14 when the bridge was open to vehicles.
Slaney says she's attended community meetings and has spoken with the shelter's funders about next steps and potential solutions. She says a public bus isn't feasible, due to the town's geographical area and population and the need to protect the safety of those in shelter care.
One option being considered is purchasing a van or SUV for the shelter that can be driven by an employee to transport women and children to necessary services.
In the meantime, she says, affording transportation is becoming "near impossible."
"We are an emergency service no different than the fire department, just that we respond to something different, and collectively with community and government, we have to come up with a solution," she said.
"If we have to choose between transportation and food, I mean, that's not fair to the women and children that we're serving."