Eric McLean

Eric McLean

Nanaimo council opens gateway discussions for Bastion Street bridge

NANAIMO – City council to decide whether to replace or rehabilitate Bastion Street bridge.

City council will weigh the case for a brand new, multimillion-dollar Bastion Street bridge in downtown Nanaimo.

It’s a good sign for the Old City Quarter Association, which could finally get its wish for a gateway to lure Commercial Street shoppers across the divide above Terminal Avenue.

The Bastion Street Bridge, built in 1936, needs significant maintenance and upgrades, according to a condition assessment report done in 2014, a city report shows. City staff recommended in June council do a rehabilitation and seismic upgrade project, which would see the bridge’s life extended for 20 to 30 years for $1.7 million.

But politicians also want to consider what it would mean to build a new bridge, estimated to cost in excess of $5 million and last up to a century, and look into a gateway, long-proposed by the Old City Quarter Association.

“This is excellent news,” said Eric McLean, president of the Old City Quarter Association of the willingness to look at a gateway. “We’ve been waiting for this for 20 years.”

McLean said businesses around Fitzwilliam Street felt disconnected from the rest of downtown because of the bridge and that traffic wasn’t coming across it when the Old City Quarter Association formed in 1993. The group came up with a plan for a gateway as a way to show shoppers and tourists there’s more across the bridge.

McLean calls it an issue of connectivity and while he says it’s better than it was, still describes the bridge as a physical and psychological barrier.

The idea is to have an arch between two lamp posts with the Old City Quarter logo resting in the middle, artist renditions show. McLean can see tourists getting photos taken there – just like the gateway in Victoria’s Chinatown – and said there would be the benefit of adding pizazz and interest to elevate awareness of the area.

Coun. Wendy Pratt is interested in a new bridge rather than rehabilitation, which she said is fiscally more responsible, and considers the gateway, or portal, as a good idea to pursue, calling it a “no brainer for our downtown revitalization.”

“One of the things with the cruise ships is directing people towards what to see in downtown and in the downtown surroundings and that’s a big part of it,” she said.

Phil Stewart, the city’s manager of engineering projects, plans to meet with the Old City Quarter Association this week. There will also be discussions with the Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association.

A report with information on constructing a new bridge and businesses cases for repairs and retrofit versus replacement is expected this summer.

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