Blackfriars Environmental Assessment Passes Through Committee

The Blackfriars Bridge as seen on September 9, 2013. The bridge has been closed to both pedestrian and vehicle traffic since August. (Matthew Trevithick)
The Blackfriars Bridge as seen on September 9, 2013. The bridge has been closed to both pedestrian and vehicle traffic since August.

UPDATE: The environmental assessment plans passed through Council, as were the short-term repairs, which will allow pedestrians and cyclists to use the bridge during the environmental assessment.

London bridge may not fall down after all. The Civic Works committee voted unanimously Monday to begin an environmental assessment of the Blackfriars Bridge. The assessment would determine what long-term strategy is needed to repair the 138-year old structure.

A detailed inspection of the bridge, done earlier this year, found significant deterioration and corrosion, weld cracks, broken rivets, and deformation on the bridge’s arch. The report also detailed how multiple “primary support locations” located under the deck also suffered from corrosion and deformation. The inspection was the first done in 25 years.

City engineer John Braam told the committee that $770,000 had been spent on bridge repairs over the last 10 years, with an average annual repair cost of $60-80 thousand.

A motion put forward by Mayor Fontana, seconded by Councillor Orser, to approve short-term repairs on the bridge which would open the pedestrian sidewalk during the assessment, at a cost of $260,000, was shot down 4-2.

Ward 13 Councillor Judy Bryant was disappointed the short-term repairs didn’t pass through, saying the assessment would heavily affect the people living west of the river.

“It will create a hardship for the people who live there, particularly the people with young families who rely on walking, and don’t have cars, and can’t get a bus to go the short distance that some of them do go, and I do know I’ve already had people concerned about how they’re going to manage,” Bryant said.

If passed through city council, the environmental assessment would be the jumping off point for long-term rehabilitation plans. The bridge would be closed for up to, or over, 18 months, while city staff work on everything from confirming bridge structural issues, to documenting natural and historical environments in the area.

Major rehabilitation of other older bridges in London cost the city $1.5-2 million, but Braam said the cost of the Blackfriars could be up to $3-million.

“I think we can all agree, this bridge is the ‘Grand Old Lady of the Thames.’ It’s been here for 138 years, it owes us absolutely nothing. 138 years of service carrying vehicles, pedestrians. My understanding, this was built in 1875, and it was given a complete rehabilitation in 1950. That rehabilitation is not unlike what we’re facing today. That rehabilitation in 1950 gave us, what, an extra 63 years of service?” Councillor Van Meerbergen told the committee.

The recommendation will now seek approval from City Council next Tuesday.

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