Sunday, November 06, 2005

Those Ole' Cameron Street Bridge Blues

(For the many hundreds of avid Grouseophiles who have not the privilege of a Prince George domicile - a quick intro to what I'm raving about: Prince George stands or sits or lies at the confluence of the mighty Fraser and the reasonably mighty Nechako. Downtown and the bulk of the city is south of the Nechako but Urban, suburban and rurban development grows steadily on the north side. Not insignificantly, the north side also is home to a pack of major industrial facilities - several pulp mills and refineries operated by the likes of CANFOR and Husky Oil. Until last month, residential and industrial traffic had three choices in crossing the Nechako - from upriver down, the quite new and modern Foothills and John Hart Bridges and the old Cameron Street Bridge. The latter has had a series of maintenance shutdowns for quite some time but in early October the city announced an indefinite closure as a result, t'was said, of some "rot" discovered during an inspection)


Prince George, like all B.C. municipalities is abuzz about upcoming municipal elections. The fate of a 75-year old one lane bridge is a surprisingly center-stage
issue. When the local broad-sheet, the almost equally venerable Citizen, interviewed the candidates on the leading issues, a set question that shall allow the electorate to choose wisely concerned the position of each would-be bearer of the local democratic torch, concerned the Cameron Street crossing. And, a credit to local
politics (and a distinction largely with federal same) was that positions dotted the virtual landscape – some would demolish this little piece of transportation nostalgia and rebuild. Others who still favour a serviceable third Nechako River crossing, were for another location and rededication of the old bridge to softer purposes, socially admirable ones like biking and hiking. And there were some whose principal concern was that whatever be done not become a new cesspool into which municipal money would be interminably poured.

Into the foreboding mists of this issue, a bright light of hope and charitableness has now shone. Canfor, one of the companies that spew jobs and smoke into the Prince George environment and whose monster trucks, until recently, rumbled many times a day across the ancient bridge, has announced that it is not going to sue for compensation from our city government for the hardship of having to use a longer route. Well let’s see if we can find a public site that still hasn’t been named for some corporate wrongdoer and call it after Canfor! A cynic might assume, however, that the brass at the forestry giant has already asked for and received from its legal cadre, a less than encouraging assessment of the prospects for such getting such compensation.

Throughout B.C. and Canada there are many little rickety old bridges from which today’s massive tractor trailers trucks are permanently proscribed. It shocked me right from my first acquaintance with the Cameron Bridge that such a steady flow of very heavy vehicles was permitted. Closures have been frequent in my three years here and I have always assumed that this has at least something to do with the inappropriate passage of that industrial traffic. The option that should be seriously looked into, to my mind, is repairing the crossing for non-industrial cars and up to, say, 5 ton trucks and let the big guys “go ‘round”. Of course, the cries from the PG Mill Road would be long and raucous with inflated estimates of what it cost to tack on the extra miles and driver time. But this city already provides an extraordinary subsidy to the mills and refineries – our atmosphere as a free dumping ground for noxious and nauseating gases and particulates. Isn’t that enough without allowing further compromise of a lovely old bridge never designed for modern mega-trucks?