A major thoroughfare in Merritt lost to flood waters will soon be reconnected thanks to new funding announced by the provincial government.

The City of Merritt is receiving more than $10 million in funding that will allow for the construction of a new Middlesboro Bridge, one built to withstand high water flow such as the rates seen during the November 2021 flooding event that destroyed the original bridge on Voght Street. B.C. Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Bowinn Ma visited the site of the washed out bridge on Monday (June 26) to announce the funding.

“We know that climate change will continue to accelerate and river flooding will likely become more frequent as a result,” said Ma in a press conference at the site. “That’s why it’s imperative that we act now to shore up important infrastructure and reduce the risk of future disasters like the one endured by the people of Merritt.”

Only one short stretch of the original Middlesboro Bridge remains following the devastating atmospheric river flooding event of November 2021. Marius Auer/Herald

The new bridge will be approximately 1.5 metres higher than the original structure, and built to withstand a one-in-200-year flood event. The new design will increase water volume by 65 percent compared to the original bridge. The new bridge is proposed to accommodate two lanes of vehicle traffic, along with one lane dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists. The original bridge had an undersized walkway and no cycling lane or shoulder.

Pedestrians and motorists alike could be crossing the new bridge within the next two years, with the preliminary engineering process complete and  procurement underway. Construction is expected to begin in summer 2024, with completion slated for early 2025.

Ma noted during the press conference that the new bridge project is one of many funded by the province for the City of Merritt, including rebuilding dikes and banks along the Coldwater River, road repairs, park restorations, water-well restoration and a new running track. With over $12 million in Disaster Financial Assistance (DFA) funding already supplied to the city, Ma said more is on the way. 

“It used to be that we talked about climate change as something that would impact the lives of our children and our grandchildren, that if we didn’t deal with it now they would be left to deal with it,” said Ma. “What we’re seeing today, is that’s no longer the case. It’s right here, right on top of us. It’s something we have to deal with right now.”

The minister also noted the new Emergency Management Disaster Act, a piece of proposed legislation that will be tabled in B.C.’s legislature this fall, will incorporate a recognition of the realities of climate change, and place greater emphasis on risk identification and mitigation for municipalities. The new regulations will also require local governments to cooperate and collaborate with First Nations, and add increased accountability for local governments to be more aware of and prepare for climate related risks. 

Merritt Mayor Mike Goetz said during the funding announcement event that climate change is a reality whether people choose to accept it or not, pointing out the bridge as a “scar” on the community caused by changing climates. 

“Recovering from a natural disaster is a long process of damage assessments, funding applications, design development and requests for proposals long before any construction can commence,” said Goetz. 

“While the city has been able to make a number of major repairs, seeing the scar of the missing Middlesboro Bridge has been a painful daily reminder of that harrowing event. I’d like to thank the province for providing the funding to repair this important transportation link, which will not only ease transportation routes for our residents, but also revive our commercial corridors.”

Goetz also noted that several other flood recovery and mitigation projects have been completed, including the Canford Avenue rebuild, a transitional housing program, and wastewater treatment plant repairs. When asked about a timeline for ensuring all residents displaced by the flood are back in their homes, Goetz said a timeline was not possible due to complexities such as funding, a new floodplain, and slow moving government processes. 

With the Middlesboro Bridge project now funded, the city shifts its focus to diking, housing, and other recovery and mitigation initiatives that could lessen the impacts of a future flooding event. For more information on the city’s ongoing flood-related projects, visit www.merritt.ca/flood.