Burned bridge a key access point in Thunder Bay

A major fire at the James Street bridge Tuesday night leaves questions about the future of the busy crossing.

Fort William First Nation chief says it may be time to build a new crossing

A Tuesday night fire at the James Street bridge has some officials questioning if it's time to replace the aging structure. (John Laco)

A major fire at the James Street bridge Tuesday night has left questions about the future of the busy crossing.

The chief of Fort William First Nation says the bridge is a key access point for both road and rail traffic.

A CN Police vehicle is parked near the James Street bridge in Thunder Bay. The bridge was the scene of a fire Tuesday night. (Gord Ellis/CBC)

Georjann Morriseau said the lost link will have an effect on business and industry in both the First Nation and the city.

Considering the age of the bridge, Morriseau said it's time to talk about building a new one.

“This is something that I will most likely … be approaching the City of Thunder Bay on and quite possibly CN Rail,” she said. “To … enter into discussions about what ... a new bridge could possibly look like .... for both communities.”

According to figures from the City of Thunder Bay, about 8,800 vehicles cross the bridge daily.

At this point, no one is saying how badly the bridge was damaged by the fire, or when it will reopen.

No timeline for re-opening

Investigators led by the Ontario Fire Marshall's office continue to comb through the scene of the fire for evidence of its origins.

Thunder Bay Fire Chief John Hay said the James Street bridge is a structure that will be easy to look over — and determining the cause of the fire should be wrapped up in a day or two.

The extent of damage to the bridge will be determined by engineers. He noted there is obvious damage to the wooden decking, along with some heat damage to the steel structure.

CN Rail, the company that owns the bridge, said there is no timeline for when the bridge will re-open to rail, pedestrian or vehicle traffic.

The railway has an agreement with the city, to maintain the bridge in perpetuity.

Industry concerned

Elevators that rely on rail cars to deliver grain on a frequent basis also have concerns about the bridge being out of service.

"Well all the grain that comes into the terminal comes in by rail," said Paul Kennedy, manager of Mission Terminal. "So we would be effectively cut off from our supply."

Management at the nearby Cargill elevator shares Kennedy's concerns. More grain is enroute to that elevator, coming in by rail.

A spokesperson for Cargill said using trucks to bypass the James Street swing bridge is not an idea solution, as the facility is not set up to handle truck traffic.

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