Time for a New Bridge Over the Kam River

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The James Street Bridge remains closed to train, vehicle and pedestrian traffic
The James Street Bridge remains closed to vehicle traffic
Closure of the bridge is costing businesses on both sides of the river a lot of money.
Closure of the bridge is costing businesses on both sides of the river a lot of money.

Too Much Focus on CN Rail and the Past?

THUNDER BAY – EDITORIAL – The James Street Bridge was built in 1904. The historic bridge is over 100 years old. With the fire on the bridge in 2013, the bridge was deemed unsafe for vehicle traffic. CN Rail, which has a long-standing agreement to maintain the bridge has made the bridge safe for train traffic.

Discussions have been on-going between the City of Thunder Bay and CN Rail for over a year. Those talks appear focused on getting the one hundred and ten year old structure open for vehicle traffic.

A view from the underside of the James Street Bridge - February 2014.
A view from the underside of the James Street Bridge – February 2014.

It appears lost in the process that what is really needed in the long-term is not a repaired bridge, but a new bridge. It is a process that should have Fort William First Nation, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the Province of Ontario, and the City of Thunder Bay working to a real solution.

Perhaps leaving the old bridge to CN rail might be the best process, if the company insists on standing back and playing what at best appear to be political games with the City of Thunder Bay.

Postcard image of the James Street Bridge
Postcard image of the James Street Bridge in its glory days.

Planning for a new bridge could be done with longer term economic benefits for Fort William First Nation and Thunder Bay in mind.

Over time there has been discussion of a new highway to the Pigeon River US Border, one that would go along the beautiful shore of Lake Superior. Perhaps working toward a longer term view, and building toward the long term plans for waterfront development in Thunder Bay there could be a new route built.

The economic benefits for Westfort, Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation should rank at the top of the list for the location of a new bridge. Waiting for CN Rail is proving to be time-consuming, and defeats the process of moving forward.

For now, building a new bridge that would offer a safer route over the Kam River should be the priority.

Perhaps it is time that Fort William First Nation and Thunder Bay City Council host a joint meeting where this could be discussed?

All of the political gamesmanship coming from CN Rail in this matter speak well to the company’s intention. Leave them the old CN Rail Bridge, let them figure out how to keep it going into the future.

Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation should simply stop fretting over what the rail company will do. Move forward. As the James Street Bridge ages, there will come a time when the safety of the entire structure will fall below acceptable safety standards.

The goal should not be in simply not having a temporary solution but a long-term solution.

James Murray

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