The Lenhart Bridge, spanning the Millstone River at the foot of Lenhart Avenue, is too old and too narrow to meet modern active transportation needs, but city councillors, at a finance and audit committee meeting, recommended cancelling a planned project to replace the bridge. (News Bulletin file photo)

The Lenhart Bridge, spanning the Millstone River at the foot of Lenhart Avenue, is too old and too narrow to meet modern active transportation needs, but city councillors, at a finance and audit committee meeting, recommended cancelling a planned project to replace the bridge. (News Bulletin file photo)

Nanaimo councillors, in tie vote, recommend cancelling bridge replacement in Bowen Park

Finance committee split on Lenhart Bridge project after it comes in $188,000 over budget

Nanaimo city councillors, in a tie vote, have recommended cancelling a project to replace a bridge that crosses the Millstone River in Bowen Park.

The existing Lenhart Bridge was built in the 1960s, is nearing the end of its lifespan, is not wide enough for pedestrians and cyclists to pass safely and its chain link side rails don’t meet modern safety standards for cyclists, noted a city staff report. However, escalating construction costs have driven the price to replace it to $425,000.

“It’s an excellent project. It will provide good mobility from the Townsite and hospital area to downtown,” said Bill Sims, general manager of engineering and public works, at a finance meeting Wednesday, June 15. “I think the question we should ask at the committee to contemplate is, is it an excellent project at this particular cost?”

Sims said the bridge replacement project, originally budgeted in 2021 at about $237,000, is now considerably over budget due to rising construction costs.

READ ALSO: New bridge in Bowen Park part of City of Nanaimo’s active transportation plans

City staff’s recommendation was to proceed, in spite of the project being over budget. Sims said the funding was available and staff and contractors are confident they’ll deliver a good project, but “the cost is certainly the question.”

Sims and Coun. Zeni Maartman said the additional $188,000 could be drawn from the Community Works Reserve Fund.

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said he believed it is worth spending the extra money to replace the bridge as it is an important project.

“This is not the time to consider an alternative proposal, in my view, so let’s get on with it,” Krog said.

Coun. Jim Turley asked how much life is left in the existing bridge and Poul Rosen, city director of engineering, said staff can’t provide an exact answer. He estimated the bridge’s wooden deck might have to be replaced in five years, but at that time there will be pressure to upgrade to a wider deck and improved railings, which will put additional strain on the bridge’s concrete support beams that are at least 50 years old.

“There isn’t a lot of remaining service life in what’s there and we wouldn’t want to just replace the deck when the time comes,” Rosen said.

Maartman said deferring the project would only mean it will cost more in the future and should be done now.

Coun. Erin Hemmens said she cycles the bridge and doesn’t feel it’s “a piece of infrastructure that’s an absolute need at this point.”

The bridge replacement was the final item in the Bowen Park Trail Improvement project completed earlier this year as part of upgrades to water and sewer infrastructure that runs through the park under the trail.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo’s upgraded Bowen Park trail opens with winter fitness challenge

“To me, we’ve done all this work in Bowen Park and the last little thing to do to connect this whole thing together is make the bridge wider, so people can use it better,” said Coun. Don Bonner.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said he has never supported the project.

“I think we have to look at each project very carefully, with a new lens, given our economic times … I did not personally support this project as a priority when it first came in front of council and I haven’t changed my view on this,” Thorpe said. “I just don’t think it is a priority for spending extra money at this time.”

Coun. Tyler Brown said the existing bridge will serve its purpose for now and there are a number of un-funded big projects “that I think are going to have a lot more return on investment for the city itself and for transportation and active transportation in general.”

Maartman, Bonner, Krog and Coun. Ben Geselbracht voted in favour of spending the extra $188,000 to replace the bridge, and Hemmens, Brown, Turley and Thorpe voted against. The tie vote meant the motion to replace the bridge was defeated and the recommendation is to cancel the project, but the item will be on the next city council agenda.



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