Maintenance concerns were hardly water under the bridge on Tuesday night as the Township of Woolwich and the Region of Waterloo hosted a public information meeting about improvements to the West Montrose covered bridge.
The Woolwich landmark is being slowly reopened after a cracked timber was identified in September and repaired over the last few months, but further improvements are needed.
Time and again at Tuesday’s meeting, Waterloo Region Museum manager Tom Reitz stressed that improvements to the bridge would require a delicate balance of the cost/benefits of upgrades, the bridge’s historical and aesthetic integrity, and the terms of its heritage designation.
“Opening up the bridge was something we wanted to do as quickly as possible, and it took longer than a lot of us would have liked,” said Reitz. “This is phase one.”
As such, suggestions for additional piers were rejected for possibly destroying the character of the bridge. The bridge is to be reopened to vehicular traffic with stronger promotion of the three-tonne load limit, but the region is still unsure of how to enforce the laws.
Currently, more signage has been implemented to make the weight and height restrictions clear, but attendees at the meeting showed concern that vehicles would regularly disregard the warnings. While a height limit of 3.6 metres is in place, Waterloo Region staff members had reservations about implementing physical barriers, such as height limiters.
“The quick solution to get it open as fast as we could was to put up the signage,” said Reitz. “The signs are there, and looking at the literature from the U.S. where covered bridges are much more common, they say there’s little you can do to absolutely guarantee that a vehicle that is over your posted weight limit won’t go over.”
The region is more likely to introduce a posted speed limit of 10 km/h. Currently, there is no posted speed limit on the bridge, and traffic speed in West Montrose is 50 km/h.
While the bridge has not been identified as being in a state of disrepair or neglect, the region has proposed several maintenance initiatives for the coming months. The region is seeking quotes on repairs to the ridge cap on the bridge’s roof, and also plans to install interior lighting “more consistent with the heritage character” of the bridge.
There are also plans to trim or remove trees on the north side of the bridge, which have reduced visibility for bridge users and have encouraged the growth of moss.
Officials hope to have signage and repairs completed by May 1, in anticipation of summer tourism. Changes to the bridge’s interior lighting, as well as options for limiting access, are still in the planning stage, and currently have no set target date for completion.