Margaret Ave. bridge shouldn't accommodate high speed rail, staff say

City staff are recommending that Kitchener councillors approve a design for the Margaret Avenue bridge that doesn't make provisions for high speed rail, because the province's plan for rail upgrades are too uncertain to plan around.
Kitchener councillors have approved the original design for the Margaret Avenue bridge. (Mike McCulloch/CBC)

City staff are recommending that Kitchener councillors approve a design for the Margaret Avenue bridge that doesn't make provisions for high speed rail, because the province's plan for rail upgrades are too uncertain to plan around.

The bridge was closed a year ago after a report suggested the structure could collapse at any moment. Last September, staff recommended demolishing the bridge and replacing it with a new one that would span the existing two tracks.

Then, in June, staff returned to council with another recommendation: that construction of the Margaret Avenue bridge be put on hold until the governing provincial Liberals could provide more clarity on their plans for high-speed rail between London and Toronto. At the time, it was believed that running a high-speed train through Kitchener would require a third track, which the original bridge design could not handle. 

"I think what we really wanted was just a little bit more time to get our heads around these issues before we actually built anything," said city engineer Steve Allen, who is responsible for the reconstruction of the bridge.

"The bridge that we would build would be a 75 year structure. So, we wouldn't want to build something that ultimately gets torn down before the end of its service life."

Allen and his team of engineers have spent the past month asking the Ministry of Transportation about its plans for high-speed rail, but they have little to show for their efforts. Allen says senior staff with the ministry couldn't say anything more than what had already been announced.

"We don't know whether it's going to be at the level the tracks are at now or whether it's going to be raised or whether it's going to be lowered or whether they need three tracks or whether they need five," he said. 

"We just don't know what the impact of high-speed rail will be to this corridor and the Province doesn't know either." 

Without those details, Allen said it would be impossible to design a bridge for high-speed rail. That's why he is recommending council approve plans for a bridge that would only span the existing two tracks, which staff say is sufficient to accommodate proposed Go service upgrades.

If approved, city staff estimate the bridge will cost around $6.3 million. A larger bridge that spans three tracks would cost an additional $1.2 million, for a total cost of $7.5 million.

The recommendation is part of a city staff report, which will be discussed during the Community and infrastructure services committee meeting Aug. 11.