Province leaves repairs to historic Old Florenceville Bridge in doubt

by | Jun 7, 2024

After four years closed to vehicle traffic, Carleton North mayor frustrated after DTI cancels plans to begin repairs this summer

District of Carleton North Mayor Andrew Harvey said that if Florenceville-Bristol residents want to know what’s happening regarding repairs to the closed Old Florenceville Bridge, they have to ask their MLA or the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure.

“We don’t know any more than the general public knows,” Harvey said.

He said all he knows at this point is that the province has cancelled both its plans to start repairs this summer and the Request for Proposals (RFPs) to find the best plan to reopen the bridge.

The most recent development is a significant disappointment for Harvey, following the province’s announcement to great fanfare last fall that it would begin repairs this summer.

Harvey said Carleton Victoria MLA Margaret Johnson and Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Richard Ames delivered the latest bad news during a June 3 meeting with himself and Carleton North CAO Amy McIntosh.

Neither Johnson nor DTI officials responded to requests for comment on Friday afternoon, June 7.  

In October 2023, Johnson, who sits in the cabinet as the Agriculture, Aquaculture, and Fisheries Minister, welcomed her government’s plan to fast-track bridge repairs.

“This made my day,” she said, referring to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure’s plans to take the next step towards reopening the historic structure.

Ames announced in a press release on Oct. 20 his government’s plans to move quickly forward with the next phase of the repair plan.

Last fall, Ames and Johnson explained that the province decided to begin the repairs based on four contractor submissions to the department’s request for qualifications (RFQ), which showed interest in taking on the project. The department followed up with the RFP.

“They got three proposals back. That’s all we know,” said Harvey.

He said provincial officials offered no further information “other than they were too expensive.”

The Old Florenceville Bridge is a historic landmark, spanning the St. John River from downtown Florenceville-Bristol.

The unique structure — built in 1911 to replace the original bridge dating to 1885 — includes a covered portion over a single span near the downtown side. The plan announced last fall would preserve the covered section, which Johnson described as an essential part of Florenceville-Bristol’s heritage.

“It’s part of the branding of our community,” she said.

She added the wooden portion of the bridge poses the least problem, noting the steel portion delivers significant challenges. She said the most time-consuming part of the repairs involves replacing the twisted and rusted steel with a Bailey Bridge or another type of structure.

Harvey said the province didn’t offer any details about the RFPs other than that they were expensive, but the department should have engineer estimates in hand before it issued them.

The mayor said cancelling this summer’s bridge work will take at least another year, possibly more, before traffic returns to the structure. Once work begins, he described it as a two—or multiple-year project.

Noting the barriers blocking vehicle access to the bridge went up four years ago, he said Carleton North residents face at least another three years before the bridge reopens.

Harvey said the ongoing multi-year repair project on the nearby Route 130 highway bridge compounds the problem. With the St. John River dividing the District of Carleton North, he said residents must navigate a single traffic lane to travel from one side of the community to the other.

Harvey said the state of Carleton North bridges inconveniences residents and hurts tourism.

The Carleton North mayor said he recognizes the high cost of repairing the Old Florenceville Bridge, but waiting won’t make it cheaper. He added the province indicated it set aside money in this year’s budget to start the project.

He said the expenditure will carry the renovated historic bridge into the next three or four decades.

“It’s a long-term investment,” he said.

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