Blackfriars Bridge: Cost of repairs to iconic bridge doubles to $8M, but will extend span’s life, says city engineer

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The repair bill for Blackfriars Bridge is nearly double the initial estimates, but the extra cash may keep the bridge in tip-top shape for three times as long.

The rehabilitation for one of London’s “iconic assets” now tops $8 million, compared to the $4 million presented in 2016. But city politicians, sitting as the civic works committee, said the investment is well worth it.

“London, frankly, would not be the same without the Blackfriars Bridge,” said Coun. Phil Squire, adding “it’s very hard not to support something when your 91-year-old mother has a picture of this on her living room wall.”

The bridge will be removed and repaired off-site, then reassembled. City staff are hopeful the bridge could be back in operation for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as eastbound traffic, in the fall of 2018.

So, what drove up the costs?

Staff said expert opinion from contractors was necessary to pin down a reasonable number. The total cost for engineering and construction is now pegged at $8.6 million.

“The number has been this number all along, we just didn’t have all the information,” said city engineer Kelly Scherr. “With the price increase, we actually are buying more service life as well.”

The rehabilitation is projected to give the bridge 75 more years of life, compared to the 25 years associated with the lower-cost fix.

Squire asked staff to bring forward a cost range as part of future project estimates to avoid watching numbers balloon.

“It creates an issue with the public, when they feel that for some reason we’ve increased the cost of something exponentially,” he said. “The increasing cost didn’t come about because someone did something wrong.”

But Coun. Bill Armstrong said he was worried about the repair itself going “sideways.”

“I just want to make sure we don’t find ourselves . . . suddenly back here having a meeting about a bridge that’s in the river, or suddenly we’re looking at many, many more millions of dollars,” he said, asking staff about the track record of the contractor.

Edward Soldo, the city’s roads and transportation boss, said McLean Taylor Construction is “one of the most qualified to do this,” and has worked on similar, historic bridges.

“We cannot fix it in place. It is not possible to fix that bridge . . . where it is. It’s not structurally sound,” Soldo said, noting the off-site fix will be much better quality than trying to repair the bridge in place.

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  • Oldest bridge in service in Ontario, one of the oldest in Canada.
  • Spans north branch of the Thames River, connecting Ridout and Blackfriars streets.
  • Bowstring arch design made of wrought iron.
  • Built in 1875 for $14,711 by the Wrought Iron Bridge Co. of Canton, Ohio.
  • Designated a heritage structure in 1992.
  • Previous rehabilitations in 1956 and 1986.

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