Wartime bridge still in use – how long can it last?

Big ticket item for M.D.

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

The bridge over the Athabasca River at Smith comes up every now and then in M.D. council meetings. The message usually along these lines: ‘That thing will have to be replaced pretty soon,’ followed by, ‘We can’t afford to do it.’
Every year, of course, it gets older and more worn out. This year it is 76 years old, having been constructed and installed in 1944, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That was during the Second World War.

The Alaska Highway (called the ‘Alcan’ at the time) was being pushed through from Fort St. John and the huge amount of material and people heading in that direction called for road upgrades along the way. And the old Hwy. 2 ran through Smith on its way into the Peace Country.

So the bridge got slammed in and served well enough for many years. In the 1990s, the provincial government turned it over to the newly-incorporated Municipal District of Lesser Slave River. Ever since, the M.D. has been eyeing it nervously, knowing someday, somehow, it is going to have to figure out how to pay for a new bridge and hoping the province steps up to help when the time comes.

Murray Kerik, the current reeve, says the state of the structure becomes apparent when you look underneath it. Bits of hardware that have come loose and fallen off can be found there, he says.

Kerik says the due date for replacement has been pegged at 2028. The estimated cost is $3.5 million (but of course that would continue to rise). However, that does not include the cost of rebuilding the road on either side, which has been deemed necessary.

“We have too many issues with the steep hill on the north side,” Kerik says. “There have been warnings about the condition of the bridge for the last 10 years which has prompted us to lobby for replacement earlier.”

Being on a secondary highway and with not a lot of traffic, the bridge has not been much of a priority for the provincial government. However, it is vital for the people who live and work in the area. Those who live on the north side of the river rely on it to go in and out of Smith. And if anything should happen to the new Hwy. 2 bridge, this one would suddenly become very important and see a huge increase in traffic. Could it handle it?

Bridge over the Athabasca River at Smith: its days are numbered.

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