Saturday, February 27, 2016

Nipigon River Bridge Reopens, Reconnecting Canada

Two days ago the Nipigon River Bridge opened to two lanes of traffic again. The Nipigon River, which flows from Lake Nipigon to Lake Superior, separates eastern and western Canada, and there is only one two-lane highway bridge across the river. When the bridge came loose in cold weather it was closed for a day, then open to only one lane of traffic. There were half-hour traffic backups and the symbolic effect of splitting a country was equally consequential. Last weekend a “temporary” repair was completed and after tests, the bridge was opened to two lanes on Thursday morning. Canada is properly connected again.

Though considered temporary in an engineering sense, the bridge repair is likely to last for several years while a parallel span is built. In the meantime, the cause of the failure will be determined so that the second span can be built in a way that avoids duplicating the same fault.

The experience of the Nipigon River Bridge failure has given some impetus to the idea of an alternate route. This proposed highway would improve 200 kilometers of existing roads going north from Thunder Bay, then would add 100 kilometers of new road north of Lake Nipigon. This would not be a popular route but it would be nice to have ready the next time a severe weather event or disaster closed the one highway between Thunder Bay and Nipigon that connects eastern and western Canada. When the Nipigon River Bridge closed there was no detour that would keep you in Canada. The proposed highway would be a three-hour detour — no picnic, obviously, but better than having no detour at all.