Residents question 2-year timeline to replace Harmer Avenue bridge

With its rusty, sagging chain-link canopy, it isn’t hard to see why the time has come to replace the 55-year-old Harmer Avenue pedestrian bridge. But some neighbours are wondering why the city needs two years to get the job done.

Upgraded bridge, ramps only expected to be in place by summer 2020

The City of Ottawa says the current Harmer Avenue Pedestrian Bridge has reached the end of its life cycle. The bridge was one of the first to cross a 400-level highway when it first opened in the 1960s. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

With its rusty, sagging chain-link canopy, it isn't hard to see why the time has come to replace the 55-year-old Harmer Avenue pedestrian bridge. But some neighbours are asking why the city needs two years to get the job done.

Highway 417 will be closed for some of this weekend between Bronson and Carling avenues, kicking off the city's two-year plan to replace the decades-old bridge.

Luanne Calcutt, chair of the Civic Hospital Neighbourhood Association's transportation committee, said she welcomes the replacement but was taken aback by the construction timeline.

"When we see how quickly bridges on the 417 are replaced, one wonders why it has to take two years," she said.

The city has replaced several other bridges and ramps in less than 24 hours.

Highway ramps at Island Park Drive were replaced in just 15 hours in 2007, and it took only 17 hours to replace the Clyde Avenue bridge spanning Highway 417 a year later.

"The only thing we can think about is it's a question of the cost related to a faster turnaround time," Calcutt said.

With few streets in the area crossing under Highway 417, the Harmer Avenue bridge provides a vital north-south link for pedestrians and cyclists between Wellington Village and the Civic Hospital neighbourhood — including children who attend school north of the highway.

"Especially when so many kids are impacted, any detour onto a busy street is not desirable — whether it's to our liking or not," Calcutt said.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson announced changes to the Holland Avenue detour Thursday, in response to safety concerns expressed by cyclists.

Cost not a factor, city says

Alain Gonthier, the City of Ottawa's director of infrastructure services, said this project doesn't lend itself to the rapid-replacement approach that's been used to replace road bridges over the highway.

"It's not really tied to budget. It's tied to the type of structure that we're dealing with," he said.

"If we were able to accelerate the construction, we would be doing so."

Alain Gonthier, the city's director of infrastructure services, says the city is working as quickly as possible to replace the Harmer Avenue pedestrian bridge. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Gonthier puts the two-year timeline on par with other pedestrian bridge projects in the city, including the Rideau Canal crossing set to open in 2019.

Still, even before the existing Harmer Avenue bridge has been demolished, Gonthier said he's expecting delays.

The city was hoping to have the replacement span installed this fall, he said, but that's now only expected to happen next spring — and that's the easy part.

"Even once the new structure is in place, there is still going to be a lot of work to be completed," Gonthier said, citing utility relocations and drainage upgrades.

Workers begin demolition work near the Harmer Avenue pedestrian bridge ahead of its scheduled removal overnight on Saturday, July 28. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Meanwhile, Calcutt said she can only take the city at its word when it says the two-year timeframe is necessary.

"I certainly would hope that any opportunity to shorten that period of time would be taken by the city, especially since the detour on Holland Avenue is not ideal," she said.