Renfrew – There is no denying the fact that COVID-19 may have inflicted a lot of pain on several local tourist operators, but the new COVID-19 Resilience Infrastructure Fund will pay for a $183,000 facelift on Renfrew’s historic Swinging Bridge, one of the town’s most recognizable and tourist-friendly attractions.
During a recent Renfrew Town council meeting, a resolution was passed allowing for the sole contracting of the bridge project to be awarded to WSP, an Ottawa-based firm that was contracted out previously when the bridge underwent structural upgrades.
Mike Asselin, the town’s Director of Development and Works, informed council the awarding of the contract was time sensitive and it was sole-sourced in order to meet the timelines of the relief program.
“We were notified of the success of the funding and that allowed us to advance the project to the design phase right away,” he told the Leader. “Based on funding, this project must be started in June 2021 and be completed in December 2021, and in order to meet this required deadline, the town needed to fast-track design and construction. WSP has a working familiarity with the swinging bridge as they have completed the Ontario Structure Inspection Manual (OSIM) inspections on it as well as completed interim repairs in the last two years.”
Like several COVID programs introduced over the last 16 months, there is usually a limited window of opportunity to apply for funding and usually a municipality will have projects that are “shovel-ready” that can be activated quickly.
The project is funded 80 per cent ($146,938.40) by the federal government and 20 per cent ($36,734.60) by the province. Any additional spending will be at the expense of the town.
The intent of the project is to extend the life of this important landmark for another 25 years. The design phase has already been started and the goal is to begin upgrades by the end of August.
Some of the work scheduled to take place include the replacement of pier columns and pier caps; the rehabilitation of timber connections in the deck (stringers, lateral bracing, railing posts, etc.); the replacement of selected deck stringers, the replacement of all deck boards with composite material and the replacement of the bridge railings.
Mr. Asselin is well aware of the significance of the bridge.
“The Swinging Bridge is one of the town’s most recognizable and cherished landmarks and WSP is aware of the need to maintain the character of the structure,” he said. “Not only is it an important tourist attraction, but it is also a vital link over the Bonnechere River for those walking or biking to the north part of the town. The timing worked out well as construction likely won’t take place until the end of summer so it will remain open until then.”
Mr. Asselin said the bridge is structurally safe so the general public has no need to worry because it is scheduled for construction. As one of only a handful of swinging bridges in Ontario, it is identified as a town asset within its Asset Management Plan and there were plans in place for the upgrades.
“Without the COVID funding, the upgrades would not have taken place this year,” he said. “Although COVID has caused a lot of hardship in Renfrew and every other town where tourism is a big part of the local economy, the funding comes at an opportune time to help maintain the bridge for another 25 years. It is also good news for our residents because they are not being asked to pay for it through local taxes as the costs are covered by the federal and provincial levels of government.”
Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader