Recap: Walterdale Bridge & West Rossdale Open House

Last Thursday the City of Edmonton held an open house to discuss and gather feedback on two projects that will have a big impact on our river valley. The Walterdale Bridge, which has served Edmonton for nearly 100 years, is reaching the end of its usable life and needs to be replaced. The bridge connects the south side to Rossdale, the western part of which has been “rediscovered” and for which a new urban design plan has been created.

Held at the TransAlta Arts Barns, I thought the open house was fairly well-attended. I stayed for the first half, and by the time I left, around 120 people had signed in. Unfortunately the Walterdale Bridge presentation went long, so I didn’t learn much about West Rossdale other than what was shared on the information display boards. You can learn more about the West Rossdale Urban Design Plan here.

Walterdale Bridge & West Rossdale Open HouseWalterdale Bridge & West Rossdale Open House

The Walterdale Bridge Strategic Planning Concept Study of 2008 concluded that the bridge is now too old to be rehabilitated, and must be replaced. These images of the current Walterdale Bridge come from Bing Maps:

Walterdale Bridge

Walterdale Bridge

It may be old, but I think the current Walterdale Bridge is distinct and recognizable.

The concept design for the replacement bridge calls for a “functional signature bridge”. Key design considerations include:

  • Access/traffic accommodation from 82 Avenue to 97 Avenue.
  • Grades at south approach.
  • Detours and closure impacts, utility staging.
  • Aesthetics – signature bridge.
  • Traditional Burial Grounds and Fort Edmonton Cemetery Commemoration Site, historical resources.
  • North Saskatchewan River Valley plans.
  • Environmental policies and procedures.
  • Integration with West Rossdale Urban Design Plan, EPCOR Rossdale repurposing, EXPO 2017 bid, and other area plans.
  • Pedestrian and cyclist accommodation.

Walterdale Bridge & West Rossdale Open HouseWalterdale Bridge & West Rossdale Open House

To date, the City has conducted meetings/interviews with 14 key stakeholder groups, including twice with Aboriginal Elders with a pipe ceremony.  As you might expect, a wide range of issues have been raised in those stakeholder meetings, but this comment nicely sums it up:

The challenge for this project is to achieve a balance between providing improved access for private vehicles to downtown Edmonton and protecting/preserving the character, safety and integrity of the communities that the roadways approaching the bridge replacement will be impacting.

There were four options presented at the open house, though they weren’t mutually exclusive (PDF, 3.9 MB). Attendees were encouraged to leave feedback using sticky notes, and if they liked the south side of one option but the north side of another, the City representatives wanted to hear that. There are four bridge types being considered: girder, arch, extradosed, and cable-stayed (PDF, 320 KB).

Walterdale Bridge & West Rossdale Open HouseWalterdale Bridge & West Rossdale Open House

All four alignment options get rid of the hairpin at Saskatchewan Drive and Queen Elizabeth Park Road. The first three options shift the bridge to the east slightly, whereas option four would see the replacement built significantly further east than the current bridge. Of the four options, the first seems to have the smallest impact.

I’m encouraged by the lip service paid to pedestrians and cyclists during the open house, and I hope that translates into tangible benefits for those two important types of travelers once the replacement is built. It was also encouraging to hear that 1% of the total cost of the bridge will be allocated to public art.

In the presentation, a “signature” bridge was described as one that Edmontonians feel proud of. While that’s a fair definition, I really wonder why we’d build something we’re not proud of. It seems to me that what is meant by “signature” is something different, perhaps something more along the lines of the new Art Gallery of Alberta. I think a signature bridge is one that gets Edmontonians and others talking about it.

Walterdale Bridge & West Rossdale Open House

The next steps for the Walterdale Bridge project are as follows:

  • An interim plan, with three options, will go to the Transportation & Public Works Committee in January 2011.
  • Additional public information sessions will take place in February/March 2011.
  • A final recommendation will go to City Council in April 2011.

Even without EXPO 2017, we need to replace the Walterdale Bridge, so I’m not sure what impact, if any, that loss will have on the project. The Walterdale Bridge is an important, busy bridge here in Edmonton. If you have feedback on how the replacement bridge should look or function, let the team know.

12 thoughts on “Recap: Walterdale Bridge & West Rossdale Open House

  1. Thanks for your excellent recap Mac! I attended and gave some feedback which primarily focused on making sure that whichever bridge design & alignment option is selected, that it be designed to be able to accommodate for future rail capacity.

    One of either the High Speed Rail line, or the forth-coming East/Central Circulator low-floor LRT to Sherwood Park via Whte Ave, will have to use the new Walterdale since the High Level Bridge can’t do both.

    I found that City Staff and private consultants hired for the project listened well, were very approachable and had good answers for everyone’s questions and concerns – an especially difficult proposition considering this early conceptual phase.

  2. I’m curious about why the bridge NEEDS to be replaced. It’s about the same age as the Low Level and the Dawson, and those bridges have been refurbished. I’m not arguing, I’m just wondering where the discussion was about this bridge coming to its end of life and needing to be replaced as opposed to repaired. And since we’re talking bridges here. We’re looking at this project AND building a new bridge across the river not very far away at Louise McKinney Park for the SE LRT. Do we really need two new bridges?

  3. Jodine, the old Walterdale bridge deck and girders were recently refurbished back in 2008 effectively extending the use for another 5 years:

    There’s no real necessary debate or discussion about this. All public infrastructure like roads and bridges have lifespans. That’s why every several years you’ll see the same stretch of road get re-paved.

    I think a discussion we should have is how can we build our new roads and bridges to last longer? A difficult task given the intense freeze and thaw heaving that happens in this climate no doubt, but worth exploration.

    In Germany for instance they often use concrete for their roads and autobahns. It is more durable than asphalt, but it’s also more expensive, which is fine over there because they have a higher population density as a tax base.

    I.e. More tax payers per km of roadway.

    Would the same work here? We would be paying more upfront, but it’s reasonable to expect that we wouldn’t be replacing or repairing those roads as frequently either.

    I was encouraged recently to see the City installing concrete pads in front of bus stops along Whyte avenue east of 103rd street though.

    The Cloverbar LRT bridge is needed because it aligns with the approved LRT route between The Quarters, and Strathearn on the southside. It would surely be prohibitively expensive to re-route the SE LRT line into Rossdale and then back up through Old Strathcona and then east to Bonnie Doon.

    Granted, that stretch of line would be self-justifying in it’s own right, and that’s why I’ve encouraged the planners to design the new Walterdale bridge to be able to have a separate rail right-of-way for the planned East LRT line or the High-Speed Rail to Calgary.

    The High Level bridge can’t do both, and the forthcoming Cloverbar LRT bridge is too far east.

  4. That doesn’t really answer my question about why the bridge needs to be replaced, it just says “trust me, it does.” I wasn’t suggesting that we make new bridge do the work of two new bridges, or that we move the SE LRT crossing that far west … but I am asking if it’s really necessary to build two *new* bridges. As for the SE LRT, it’s not really serving the Quarters – the only station in the Quarters is less than a block from the 97th street edge of the Quarters. The rest of the Quarters – and especially the area that is high density, between 95 st. and 92 st., is not served by this LRT. This is something I don’t think the public or council was aware of when the decision was made about how to get it across the river.

    Anyway, I’d be happy if somebody just added a sentence in news and blog coverage that said “the Walterdale bridge is nearing the end of its life because it was built with XX construction, unlike other bridges in the city which were built with YY construction.” Cheap steel? Wooden instead of concrete pilings? Lack of maintenance? Something.

  5. Jodine, bridges don’t last forever. I don’t have specifics for you as to if it’s steel rivets rusting, the girders corroding, or cracking concrete. What we do know is that the bridge is over 100 years old, it recently did get refurbished to extend it’s lifespan a little bit, and that time is coming to a close in about 5 years.

    The low level, and high level bridges will probably need major refurbishment or outright replacement as well in the coming years.

    I’m sure we could just keep refurbishing every 5 years but it wouldn’t solve the secondary problem of the walterdale and that is it’s capacity.

    The transportation planners don’t want to increase total capacity on the bridge but they want it to flow better during peak crunch times. It is currently a bottle-neck.

    The other thing I know for sure is something my friend told me. He currently works at ISL and was a former city planner himself. He told me that when they were looking at doing the LRT extension south, they looked at potentially using the top deck of the High-level but it would have cost over 70 million to bring it up to standard to be able to run the trains over it.

    In the end he said, it was cheaper to build a brand new bridge than fix the old one.

    As far as the location of the Quarters station goes, I’d agree with you that it should go further east if possible. That said, there will be lots of new density in this area as well:

  6. As much as Waterdale bridge needs replacing, there needs to be an entire transportation study on connecting the south-side with the north side looking at roads, LRT, and this fabled high-speed train.

    There are currently four lanes of traffic coming down to cross the river with a two lane bridge north bound, and only two lanes of bridge at the High-Level Bridge going south bound. Anyone else see a problem here?

    Any new Walterdale bridge needs to have at least four lanes north bound and 2 lanes south bound plus anything necessary for any rail crossing.

  7. One very important aspect to all of this is that the Walter Dale bridge should have never ever been built where it is. This also goes along with the power plant. The area in and about the Power plant and 105 street to the west is a Burial Ground. Once people understand that then we can move on.

    The city of Edmonton for over 100 years now have been digging up bodies in Rossdale. When will the area be respected like any other Cemetery in Edmonton and in the Province Alberta? So far it has not. The City of Edmonton continues to destroy others sacred sites and culture. There are over 400 people buried in Rossdale and surly they are not all in that tiny area the City has designated as the cemetery.

    Just to name one such important person’s family member who is buried at Rossdale is David Thompson’s nephew along with many other people that were the start of Edmonton and the province of Alberta and this is the well deserve respect they get?

    When will this treatment of others stop? If the City of Edmonton does not know how big the Traditional Cemetery is then it should be left alone and be turned into a Historical Sacred National Park. No more of this gee wizz we did not know. They have known for over 200 years. No more excuses.

    There is a long list of so called discoveries of bodies dating back to 1908 of bodies found and as late as 2001 when Epcor moved the fence back. The City wants to Expand Rossdales housing and destroy more of the Historical Burial Ground.

    Just to put thing in perspective would you like any one digging up your grandparents or any one of your family and just throwing them in them in a land fill or garbage?

  8. Are flow through lanes with ramps used to keep traffic moving or will there be traffic lights on both ends of the bridge; common problem here in Edmonton. One step forward, two steps back.

  9. Has there been a study of the Heritage Aspects of teh Walterdale bridge? Does the communnty not value its engineering heritgae structures that have stood strong for 100 years and helped shap the city and region? Did the engineering study evaluate the value of the heritage aspects of the bridge, or just the bottom dollar replacement costs? Did the study also consider the cost to demolish the existing bridge as opposed to minor cost refurbishments and converting the bridge to a Pedestrian/bicycling/snowmobile only bridge? Perhaps this could be a first in Canada and draw tourism, pay for itself? Were any historical sociteties approached for input? Surely a 100 year old bridge has some engineering, societal, cultural value that can’t be addressed in a simple acounting spreadsheet? Better yet, if a new bridge is in a different location, why demolish and icon- let a business or society take it over and run it as a tourism opp.
    Lastly, the talk of end of life span is bogus. With reduced traffic (i.e. pedestrian/bikes, etc) the fatigue life may be fine for the next 50 years, and all that’s needed is a solid coat of paint which locals can fundraise for or take money from the City’s heritage fund if it still has one. Still, from the presentation, it seems clear that there has been almost no evaluation of heritage and that someone at your city has a vision for a legacy structure: the rest is smoke and mirrors to try and make it appear that everyone is doing their due diligence and public process. Check out Victoria’s Johnson Street bridge outcome for a classic case study of this.
    The Brooklyn Bridge is an icon and it took many years to become that. Edmonton is fooled if if it thinks that a new cut and paste will bring immediate tourism to the City. Better to work with what you have and take a lead in canada for progresseive re-adaption of heritage structures!

  10. Right!

    In an act of expedient dereliction of duty officials of the provincial government have recently colluded and collaborated with officials of the city to remove designated burial-site protection under the Cemeteries Act of Alberta for the area affected by the proposed bridge/road siting.

    Designation of the site as an official burial site was based on evidence of human remains excavated during the subsequently-aborted EPCOR power plant expansion fence-post-digging.

    Now, without any explanation or evidence offered as justification for their act, other than as support for the Mandel-Manifest-Destiny signature “Indian-Giver” bridge, they summarily change “The Law”.

    What other laws might they summarily change if this is left unchallenged ?

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