Province's plan for covered bridge replacement in St. Martins panned as 'phony'

·3 min read

The New Brunswick government plans to replace a covered bridge in St. Martins built in 1935 with a two-lane structure that will "mimic" the iconic bridge, a letter to a covered bridge preservation group indicates.

The province's 2021 capital budget includes money for design work for "replacement" of the Vaughan Creek Covered Bridge in St. Martins.

Premier Blaine Higgs sent a letter in response to questions from the Covered Bridges Conservation Association of New Brunswick about the plans for the bridge.

The letter says the plan involves a two-lane bridge with a "wood housing to mimic a traditional covered bridge's appearance to preserve the tourism and heritage value to New Brunswick."

"It's a phony," Ray Boucher, president of the association, said in an interview. "Although you put a wooden structure over top of it, it's still a steel bridge."

Shane Fowler/CBC
Shane Fowler/CBC

He said the 22 metre covered bridge is a tourist draw to the community on the way to the nearby sea caves and Fundy Trail Parkway.

"They're destroying a part of the history of that area is what they're doing," Boucher said. "The reason why people come from all over the world to view covered bridges is because they are covered bridges, heritage covered bridges, they're not steel bridges with the covering on them."

The premier's letter offered no timeline for the work, saying a concept has been selected and design work is underway. It says federal funding has been secured and the province will work with federal departments on environmental permitting and land acquisition.

A temporary one-lane steel bridge has been in place for several years after the older covered bridge was deemed to be no longer able to carry heavy vehicle traffic.

Graham Thomson/CBC
Graham Thomson/CBC

The letter says a two-lane bridge would reduce delays at the crossing and improve pedestrian safety.

The letter doesn't address what will happen with the Vaughan Creek Covered Bridge or the cost of replacing it.

CBC News requested an interview with the province about its plans on Monday and Tuesday. No interview was provided.

Jennifer Boudreau, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, said in an emailed statement Tuesday evening that the goal is to issue a construction tender in 2022 with completion of the new bridge in 2023.

Boudreau said the department is still assessing options regarding the future of the existing covered bridge.

In the 2018 provincial election, Higgs made a campaign stop at the Vaughan Creek bridge. He said a PC government would commit to repairing covered bridges when needed, rather than replacing them.

"In 1953, we had 340 covered bridges," Higgs said in 2018. "Today there are only 58."

Boucher said it was upsetting to see a news release about the capital budget talk about a "replacement" bridge given the previous commitment.

The association has launched a letter writing campaign urging the province to rethink the plan. However, he doesn't expect it will change any minds.

Boucher said he'd like to see the province repair and strengthen the existing covered bridge instead of replacing it.