By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Imagine strings of eastbound big-rig tractor-trailers lumbering through Colborne – leaving Highway 401 to go south and make that left turn onto County Road 2, proceeding on to downtown Brighton, waiting for the light at County Road 30 to turn left and get back on the highway.
Then there’s also the diverted westbound traffic.
This is the vision of the future presented at Northumberland County council’s Public Works Standing Committee meeting this week, as Senior Project Manager Glenn Higgins of the Ministry of Transportation described the scale of traffic diversion that will be necessary as three bridges on that stretch of Highway 401 are demolished in succession in order to be replaced.
That would be the overpasses at Herley Road, Lake Road and County Road 26, Higgins listed.
To enable local traffic to continue to proceed, he said, the bridges will be replaced one by one over an estimated two years. While the reconstruction work will not require a Highway 401 closure, he said, the demolition of each will force traffic on Highway 401 between Percy Street and County Road 30 to be diverted for a matter of 12 to 18 hours.
The demolition work will be done during off-peak hours. Local traffic volumes in the vicinity of the affected bridges is low, Higgins said, but diverted highway traffic will certainly be a concern. He hopes some consultation can take place to avoid diversion during special events like Applefest.
While the downtown route is the detour for the Herley and Lake Street bridges, the diversion route for the County Road 26 bridge work is north to County Road 41 and south again on County Road 40.
One alternative might have been to construct parallel bridges beside the existing ones to allow local traffic to continue more or less normally. This has been deemed unaffordable, due to the necessity in each case of purchasing the land to accommodate such a project.
The overpass work is not only done in anticipation of the future projected widening of Highway 401 from four to six lanes between Percy Street and Christiani Road, he said – all the structures in the area of focus are original to the highway’s initial four-lane construction and are approaching the end of their service life in any case. Less-intrusive rehabilitation work will no longer suffice.
It’s a chance to get a structure in place that will suffice for the anticipated changes. Widths of these bridges, which currently vary from 8.53 to 9.76 metres, will all be 10.4 metres. Each will have two 3.5-metre lanes, and shoulders will be expanded to 1.7 metres (they currently vary from 0.78 to 1.38 metres).
Higgins spoke of the Municipal Advisory Committee that was established two years ago in connection with the highway work, which includes participation from First Nation members and emergency-service providers. A May 31 Public Information Centre at Colborne’s Keeler Centre will offer a chance for affected members of the community to learn more about the project from 4 to 8 p.m.
The good news is that this is not something for the near future. Higgins said there would be at least another two years of design work, at which time a looming provincial election may result in changes to plans and budgets.
Cramahe Township Mayor Mandy Martin was aghast at the prospect of so much traffic rumbling through Colborne.
“We really have to start looking at an alternate route,” Martin said, suggesting Telephone Road to the north.
“We really need to start addressing this now, because the downtown areas of these two municipalities are not constructed for this.”