The first drivers to cross Owen Sound’s new 10th Street bridge Friday afternoon honked their horns and blinked their lights as people on the sidewalks waved, cheered and clapped.
It happened minutes after local dignitaries cut a long red ribbon, tied between two construction barrels on either side of the bridge’s five-lane roadway, to officially open the structure – built as part of an $8.8-million replacement project that began in October 2019.
The new bridge, which opened a week earlier than planned, is a testament to the hard work of public works and engineering director Dennis Kefalas and his team, along with contractor Looby Builders (Dublin) Inc., said Coun. Brock Hamley, chair of the city’s operations committee.
“If you look at projects in the private sector and in the public sector, if you had to name one that is on time or ahead of schedule, you won’t be able to think of one. But the 10th Street bridge is one that’s ahead of schedule – a whole week – and what a way to end 2020,” he said in an interview just before the bridge opened.
Hamley said the city is planning to complete a traffic study involving the 10th Street corridor and its signals in 2021, which will streamline even further Owen Sound’s main east-west corridor.
Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Walker, city council members and staff, members of the city’s operations committee and Downtown Improvement Area board and representatives of Looby Builders took part in the ribbon-cutting photo-op just before 4 p.m.
A two-person band played Christmas carols on brass instruments before the ribbon-cutting. Pots of poinsettias were placed on the sidewalk to decorate the bridge.
While the city said the public would not be permitted to attend the event, a few dozen people showed up to take video and photos and watch the first vehicles drive across. Some watched from the nearby intersections, while others stood on the bridge’s sidewalk.
Emergency vehicles, with their lights flashing, prevented traffic from crossing the bridge until officers were given the all-clear from city officials. Once that happened and the traffic lights nearest the bridge turned green, the first vehicles began crossing the bridge.
Mayor Ian Boddy said he’s happy and relieved the bridge is open again.
“It’s especially good for downtown businesses and everybody that’s had patience while we’ve gone through this process,” he said.
The city is planning to dedicate the bridge in June as the Gitche Namewikwedong bridge. Gitche Namewikwedong means Great Sturgeon Bay in Anishinaabemowin and was Owen Sound’s name before contact by European settlers.
Kefalas said Looby Builders will now work to return the detour routes to the way they were before the construction project began.
“Maybe as soon as next week – maybe even on the weekend – they’ll start taking away some of the signs. And then as time goes on, we’ll start grinding the old paint off and put new paint on. We’ll probably do one block at a time,” he said.
Kefalas is urging drivers to pay attention to all signs and road markings along the former detour route and be patient as the traffic rules are returned to the way they were.
“Slowly the detour is coming out and be cognizant of that and just pay more attention during the next few weeks or months,” he said.
Owen Sound received $3 million from the Ministry of Transportation’s Connecting Link program to help cover the costs of the project, which involved replacing the former 109-year-old bridge. The project also included replacing a trunk watermain that supplies the northwest area of Owen Sound and storm sewer, traffic signal and road improvements.
The project took place amid the COVID-19 pandemic and some snags were encountered along the way, like the discovery of some contaminated soil and underground obstructions and settlement issues with an adjacent building.
The new bridge is about seven metres wider than the former bridge and features wider lanes – the westbound right-only turn lane is now a full-size lane – and improved sightlines.
There’s still some landscaping work to do – likely in the spring. The last of the bridge’s railings and globes for light standards are expected to arrive next month.