By Steve Hubrecht

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The Fort Point Bridge needs to be replaced sooner rather than later and its going to cost a pretty penny. 

The old wooden bridge spans the Canadian Pacific Kansas City Railway (CPKC; the company formerly known as CPR). It joins the upscale Fort Point neighbourhood with downtown Invermere. As previously reported in the Pioneer, the bridge was needed replacing for some time and the upgrade will cost an eye-popping $5 million.

Invermere councillors in the past said the district has dragged out the lifespan of the Fort Point Bridge for years and added that some day it would need to be fixed.

But this fall the lifespan of the bridge became much more clearly finite. Replacing the bridge was on an updated list of Invermere council’s strategic priority during its Tuesday, Jan. 23 meeting. During the same meeting Invermere chief administrative officer Andrew Young outlined that a recent engineering report said the bridge “will need to be replaced in three years, four years at the most.”

The ancient bridge’s limited capabilities became visibly obvious to local residents when, at the start of winter, the district put restrictions in place that limit traffic on the bridge to single lane only, keep all traffic 1.5 metres away from the sidewalk, and limit speed on the bridge to 30 kilometres per hour. These measures were taken in the interest of public safety, and were recommended by the engineering report. They will remain in place until the bridge is replaced.

Young explained that the district needs to do engineering and design to figure out how best to replace the bridge. This engineering and design work is scheduled to happen in 2024. The district may look at the option of creating a level rail crossing similar to the one by the Station Pub, instead of building a new bridge.

A level crossing would be significantly less expensive than a new bridge, but would need approval from CPKC.

Cost saving is clearly something the district needs to consider: a new Fort Point bridge — if not offset with grants or other external funding — could cost Invermere taxpayers the same amount as did the new Columbia Valley Centre or the Lake Windermere Resort Lands purchase. It may be hard to believe a tiny little wooden bridge is as expensive as two of the largest projects the district of Invermere has undertaken in the past decade, but it’s true.

But, as members of the gallery pointed out during the meeting, getting CPKC approval for a level crossing could take a very long time, possibly far longer than the bridge has left. Invermere resident John Rouse wryly summed up: “that could be 10 years”. Another concern raised by the gallery was that two level rail crossing could leave Fort Point completely cut off from the rest of the district if a train broke down while passing through Invermere. That would mean ambulances and firetrucks could not reach emergencies on the other side of the train.

Invermere councillor Gerry Taft expressed frustration that strategic priorities are not broken down into separate steps, with timelines attached. (Taft made his comment before Young explained how that the bridge had only three or four years left, and that the district would be doing engineering and design work this year).

Taft has heard from residents who see the single lane on the Fort Point bridge, and want to know both what’s happening and how long it will take. 

“Sometimes our strategic priorities are big projects, with multiple steps. I think it’s important to break them down into parts, and to give times to each part,” said Taft. “For instance, with the Fort Point Bridge, when will we get the engineering reports back? When will we be deciding whether it’s going to be a new bridge or a level crossing? It would be good for us to be able to communicate that to the public.”