As the Nicola Valley continues to recover two years after the November 2021 floods, one major wound still remains prominent within the City of Merritt.
The Middlesboro Bridge, once connecting Voght Street to Collettville, sits idle adorned with fencing and a ‘do not enter’ sign.
Plans are now in full swing, however, to reopen the bridge in one year’s time.
Mayor Mike Goetz, Director of Recovery and Mitigation Sean Strang, as well as local elders and community members came together at the north end of the bridge on Nov. 16 to officially announce the plan for reconstruction.
“This bridge has constantly been a reminder of what happened,” said Goetz. “We have a plan to fix it and a plan to move on, and once this scar is healed, it starts the healing journey of all of us.”
Strang said that barring any major interruptions with permits, construction on the redesigned bridge is set for the summer of 2024. The goal is to have a drivable surface by the fall, with final landscaping completed by 2025.
“This is a scar on the community. It’s one of the last big recovery projects. The old bridge, obviously, was not adequate for any type of flooding scenario.”
The design for the new build will be a single-span bridge, which does not require a central pier supporting the structure at its middle point. This means less interaction between the structure and the water flow, and allows for more free movement of debris underneath.
“It’s a much more environmentally-friendly design, and a much more resilient design,” said Strang.
The contract for the rebuild has been awarded to Emil Anderson Construction, based out of Kelowna, who have already begun the environmental and fish survey process.
Engineering studies have resulted in the need for a new bridge that requires three times as much space underneath as the old bridge. That means the ability to withstand three times as much flow, but also about twice the price tag, something Strang said has been a lot of work to find funds for without taking from the pockets of Merritt’s taxpayers.
In terms of changes in river flow from both the bridge construction and dyke construction projects in other parts of the Nicola Valley, like Coldwater and Lower Nicola, Goetz said that he has taken these concerns to the regional district and they are being addressed to minimize the changes in the river’s natural flow.
“We realize that not only Merritt was affected, all the people of the valley were affected down to Spences Bridge. People were homeless. But we all came together, we all stuck it out, and I’m super proud of everybody.”
The new bridge will be constructed wider than it was before and include a multi-use path that will be installed along the way.
“It should be good for everybody, whether it’s vehicle traffic, pedestrians or cyclists,” said Strang.
As with much of the rebuilding process over the last 24 months, patience remains a virtue. Goetz said that despite a concrete plan in place, “it’s not going to happen overnight.”
“There’s a lot of integral parts between two governments and a local government, and Sean and his crew work on this every single day. We have to be appreciative of the work that gets done, and we need the time and the space to get it done. I’ve said this is a five to seven year projects, and it is, that’s exactly what it’s going to be.”