Keep rail bridge shut to all traffic, report urges

The Johnson Street rail bridge, closed to trains last month because of corrosion on key structural supports, should not be reopened to any traffic, including cyclists and pedestrians, city staff say.

"An estimated cost of the immediate repairs to the rail bridge is approximately $120,000 and exceeds the existing budget for the bridge operations and maintenance," says a staff report to be considered by city councillors today.

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"This is a preliminary estimate and costs may be higher depending on the extent of repairs needed."

The city closed the bridge to rail traffic last Thursday after a routine inspection discovered the corrosion damage. It has remained opened to pedestrians and cyclists. So too, has the vehicle portion of the Johnson Street bridge -it's a separate structure from the rail bridge.

The E&N Dayliner had not been using the bridge while Southern Railway undertook track repairs. Rail corridor officials say the service has been cancelled indefinitely after the track was found to be in worse shape than expected.

City staff recommend finding a temporary train station in Vic West: "If necessary, a temporary platform could be provided immediately west of the bridge to allow the Dayliner service to operate until a temporary station can be constructed."

Loss of the rail bridge to cyclists and pedestrians will probably add another 2,000 trips a day to the main bridge, said Coun. John Luton, executive director of Capital Bike and Walk, which promotes walking and cycling in Victoria. Spending $120,000 to keep the bridge safe for pedestrians and cyclists would probably not be money well spent, he said.

"I'll ask the question, 'Is there something less costly we can do to keep cyclists and pedestrians on the [rail] bridge?' " he said.

The rail bridge is to be removed early next year to make way for the construction of a new Johnson Street span without rail.

If the rail bridge has to be closed immediately, the city will have to move quickly to ensure additional cyclists and pedestrians can be accommodated by the road bridge, Luton said.

"We're going to need the assistance of our police to do some targeted enforcement on the speeding or do not pass instruction," he said. "A lot of drivers are pretty good about not passing cyclists on the bridge but certainly speeding on the bridge is a bit of an ingrained problem."

The city held a referendum in November and won approval to borrow $49.2 million to replace the bridge. Last month, council decided against including a rail crossing as part of the $77-million project, because it was unable to get a firm financial commitment from other partners.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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