A tender call has been issued this month for replacement of the Pine Point Bridge across the Hay River.
The work had originally been described as a rehabilitation of the bridge.
Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson contacted Infrastructure Minister Wally Schumann to see what the change will mean, and the minister responded by e-mail on June 20.
Schumann, also the MLA for Hay River South, noted that the Pine Point Bridge had been scheduled for rehabilitation, along with the other truss bridges in the NWT.
"As the project progressed, engineering inspections and assessments determined the best way forward was to replace the bridge," the minister wrote. "In the case of the Hay River to Pine Point Bridge, replacement of the bridge and re-use of the bridge foundations was determined as the best option; similar to the Hay River West Channel Bridge replacement in 2000."
According to the information from the minister, the highway truss bridge will be removed and replaced with an open-decked steel girder bridge with a concrete deck, and the adjacent railway bridge will remain.
"During construction the railway bridge will be used to detour traffic through the site as a single-lane bridge with traffic control lights," he wrote. "After construction, the railway bridge access will be blocked."
The tracks were removed years ago and the railway bridge became GNWT property when the railway was decommissioned.
"The new bridge will be designed to accommodate future highway traffic loading and will no longer have height restrictions," Schumann noted.
Work onsite is expected to begin in October of this year, and the new bridge should be open to traffic by October 2019.
Simpson had contacted Schumann's office with a number of questions about the tender call and the project, which is at Km 2.2 on Highway 5.
"It states that the Hay River Bridge is scheduled to be replaced, but my understanding is that it was slated for 'rehabilitation', not replacement," the MLA wrote, noting that the Frank Channel Bridge was also going to be rehabilitated, but because of pressure from industry the Department of Infrastructure decided to replace it to allow for heavier, higher and wider loads.
In comments to The Hub, Simpson was pleased with the change of plans for the Pine Point Bridge.
"I think that removing the trusses allows for larger loads to go through," he said. "So that is a good thing for industry. With the Pine Point mine likely going forward, I think it will be useful."
Simpson said that, as far as he can tell, the change in plans from rehabilitation to replacement happened earlier this year.
"Although it's not a full replacement because they're keeping the foundation," he noted.
Simpson said the removal of the trusses will allow for better views of the Hay River for motorists and a new bridge would be good for tourism.
The MLA has no safety concerns with using the railway bridge as a detour during reconstruction.
"I'm sure that they're going to make sure that it's safe," he said. "I believe it's all part of the same bridge structure. So it could probably still withstand the load. It think that's what they did with the West Channel Bridge, as well."
The one question that Simpson still has not found an answer to is the cost of reconstruction versus rehabilitation, and he said there is a real lack of communication about the cost.