Feds want Hamilton, Burlington to take over lift bridge

The federal government wants to open talks with the two cities to have them take over the lift bridge spanning the Burlington Canal into Hamilton Harbour.

The federal government wants the cities of Hamilton and Burlington to take over operation and ownership of the Burlington Canal lift bridge.

Diane Finley, Minister of Public Works and Government Services, penned a letter to Mayor Bob Bratina last week. The ministry wants to “divest of the bridge,” she wrote, and wants the two cities to discuss it with her staff.

I’m having huge trouble understanding how they would divest that responsibility and put it on the backs of property taxpayers.- Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead

Coun. Terry Whitehead isn’t sure about that. The Ward 8 councillor says paying for the operation doesn’t seem like a job for local taxpayers.

“To me, I don’t understand it,” he said. “That bridge has natural heritage value. It has navigation routes for the major movement of goods on the Great Lakes, which is federal.

“So I’m having huge trouble understanding how they would divest that responsibility and put it on the backs of property taxpayers.”

City council will discuss the letter at a council meeting on Wednesday, city manager Chris Murray said. He wouldn’t comment until council could discuss it.

The lift bridge is a historic spot on the western shore of Lake Ontario. It spans the Burlington Canal, which opened in 1826.  The canal connects  Burlington Bay and Hamilton Harbour to Lake Ontario.

The site has seen five different moveable bridges since 1830, the Public Works and Government Services site says. The current one opened in 1962 and carries four lanes of traffic.

The bridge has a vertical lift of 33.5 metres and weighs 1,996 tonnes.

The federal government has owned and operated the bridge for more than 100 years. It has put millions into operating and maintaining the bridge, Finley wrote.

Now the bridge doesn’t serve a “program purpose,” and “can be operated more efficiently and effectively by other levels of government,” she said.

“I believe divestiture can be a win-win solution for both local stakeholders and the federal government.”

Federal officials will write Hamilton and Burlington’s city managers shortly with more information on the bridge’s current condition and to request “divestiture discussions,” she said.