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North truss bridge reopened to Battlefords walkers, bikers

You can walk or cycle to Finlayson Island from North Battleford once again.

BATTLEFORD — Friday, the grand reopening of the north truss bridge across the North Saskatchewan River to pedestrians and cyclists was celebrated. The section of the 115-year-old bridges had been closed to traffic some years ago and eventually closed to even non-vehicular as well due to safety issues.

Rehabilitation of the north bridge began in 2022. The Government of Canada invested $1,387,320 toward the project and the government of Saskatchewan contributed $1,155,984 million. The Town of Battleford was responsible for funding the remainder of the project, which Mayor Ames Leslie said worked out to $1,000,095 million. The total project cost was $3.6 million.

Work on the north truss bridge included reshaping the eroded bridge abutment slope, installing new guardrails on the south side for increased safety. The project was completed in June of 2023. Once again, the project relinks pedestrians and cyclists to the nature trails and picnic areas on Finlayson Island as well as the town of Battleford and the city of North Battleford.

The Town of Battleford has been responsible for the bridges since a new bridge was built across the North Saskatchewan River to the upriver from Finlayson Island. Traffic had been served before then by the two spans that were built in 1908, and which, when considered a single entity, comprise the oldest existing highway bridge in the province, the longest of its type.

Its care was downloaded from the Department of Highways to the Town of Battleford in 2003. The town has addressed numerous expenses since then, allowing them to keep the span over the north channel open to foot and bicycle traffic until recent years. The south channel span has been kept up to standards needed to keep it open to motorists to access Finlayson Island.

Associated Engineering has been involved in the work on the bridges since the early 2000s and were represented at the opening Friday. Professional engineer Justine Meyers, who has been on the team since 2018, said critical repairs included work on the washed-out embankment of Finlayson Island to give the river more room to flow, protecting the bridge for years to come.

She also explained that work had been done on the south span as well to ensure it was safe to bring equipment and vehicles across.

The City of North Battleford was also represented and Mayor David Gillan, who was the interim CAO for Battleford when the decision was made to close the north truss to pedestrians and cyclists, said he congratulated the town on completing the project. He also explained the town and the city had entered into an agreement for ongoing maintenance, making them partners in the future use of the bridge.

MLA Jeremy Cockrill, Minister of Highways, said, “I spend a lot of my time going around the province talking with different communities about roads and bridges and culverts and for many people, they just look like pieces of infrastructure, but what I've learned is every piece of infrastructure has emotional connections and I think this bridge is a great example of that.”

Cockrill also acknowledged his predecessor Herb Cox who was there for the re-opening as well.

Mayor Leslie said an instrumental part of procuring funding from the federal government for the project was the support of surrounding Indigenous stakeholders.

“Through proper consultation with them they wrote us letters of support, which made it very possible for us to get the funding,” said the mayor.

The chiefs of Sweetgrass First Nation and of Mosquito Grizzly Bear’s Head Lean Man First Nation, Chief Lorie Whitecalf and Chief Tanya Aguilar-Antiman  Stone, were on hand to speak as well, indicating the project is an example of the community coming together to make things happen.

Mayor Leslie said the Battlefords Art Club had been to the bridge to adorn the deck with art in advance of the re-opening and added he hoped others in the community would add to the artwork as well.