London’s Oxford and Wharncliffe rail bridge rebuild a pain for ‘long-term gain’

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It is all about making London a little easier to drive around.

Construction is underway on rebuilding a rail bridge at Oxford Street and Wharncliffe Road, the first step in what will be major, multi-year project widening Wharncliffe at Oxford and eventually at Horton Street.

“It will be a huge improvement over what we have now,” said Coun. Phil Squire. “You don’t need a traffic expert to see this needs widening.”

Western Road, from Platt’s Lane to Oxford Street, is bottlenecked at traffic-heavy times and this work is needed to speed traffic along the busy corridor, he added.

The work is to be completed in stages and may continue to the end of 2018. A detour for the train that runs on a rail bridge over Wharncliffe at Oxford is being built alongside the existing rail bridge, so the bridge can be rebuilt and the road beneath it widened.

It will be “short-term pain for long-term gain,” said Squire as construction will at times slow traffic and even close Wharncliffe and Western roads.

“We will create a better intersection. It will be very positive,” said Squire.

After the bridge is rebuilt, the next phase will be to widen Wharncliffe to four lanes.

There is a $13-million budget for the bridge rebuild, and no dollar figure yet for the road widening, said Doug McRae, manager of transportation planning and design for the city.

“We have had a long-standing bottleneck of two lanes and the work you see now is the first of two contracts to widen that section,” said McRae.

“The reason we split it into two, is the most complex undertaking is replacement of the rail bridge.”

The city has hired a “specialized bridge contractor” for the job, he said.

“We built that rail diversion so the train will run out of the way, while we build the new, permanent bridge where the old one is.”

Drivers passing the intersection can see large wooden beams shoring up the rail diversion.

A city report states the Western-Wharncliffe corridor carries about 20,000 vehicles a day. As for the rail line, it dates to 1931.

The city is still doing an environmental assessment on widening the road at Horton Street, a controversial plan that has sparked a community backlash as it would mean the demolition of a heritage house at 100 Stanley St.

A heritage impact assessment is being carried out, said Nan Finlayson, the owner of the home, who has drawn the support of community and heritage groups. She held a rally at her home on June 17 and has launched a website, save100stanleystreet.

“I think the impact assessment is just part of the process. I think the city is now doing what it has to, to make sure it can carry on,” said Finlayson.

There is no estimate yet what the Horton Street widening will cost, said McRae.

As for other major road projects, the city has accelerated a new underpass for the rail line that crosses Adelaide Street near Central, a project that could cost more than $50 million, said McRae.

Originally slated for 2031, environmental assessment is now underway and work could begin soon.

“Council has identified that as a priority. They want it pushed forward,” said McRae.

The city will need federal funding to help make that happen, he added.

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