Footbridge concerns dominate Riverdale meeting

The possibility of allowing motorized vehicles on Rotary Centennial Bridge was at the forefront of most people's minds last night during a public meeting held at Christ the King Elementary School.

The possibility of allowing motorized vehicles on Rotary Centennial Bridge was at the forefront of most people’s minds last night during a public meeting held at Christ the King Elementary School.

About 30 people, mostly Riverdale residents, sat down to speak with Mayor Dan Curtis and three other councillors during the second of a series of town hall meetings planned for this year.

The format for the meetings involves people sitting in a circle, in this case in the school’s gym, and taking turns introducing themselves and their top issue.

Last night, 23 of the 30 people who attended said the bridge was their top concern.

The future of Whitehorse’s recycling industry was a distant second.

Motorized vehicles are currently not allowed on the bridge, but ATV and snowmobile users have been calling for access to it, arguing that it’s their only way out of the neighborhood.

Another group asserts that the footbridge was never intended for motorized use and should remain that way.

Mayor Dan Curtis pre-empted the discussion by saying that council had tasked the trails and greenways committee with finding recommendations for the future use of the bridge.

Once they’ve narrowed down their solutions and presented them to council, a public input period will follow, Curtis said.

“We’re not taking this lightly,” he said.

Elaine Smart, a longtime Riverdale resident and Rotary Club member, said the bridge and Millennium Trail were the fulfillment of Father Jean-Marie Mouchet’s dream.

It’s one of the few places nearby she can walk for exercise, she said.

“If you’re a snowmobile user you have access to 700 kilometres of trails around town, and as a walker, I don’t have that option,” she said.

Another Riverdale resident, Dorothy Lebel, asked why the city hadn’t held a referendum on the issue to “clear it once and for all.”

Curtis had to interrupt a few times during the meeting to restore order.

“We’re not having a debate here,” he said.

“We’re here to listen to you so please address us (council), and not people individually.”

Tony Gonda, who has lived in Riverdale for 33 years, said there are some things you just can’t share.

He estimates he’s put in about 50,000 kilometres on a snowmobile, but he said the Millenium Trail and bridge should remain off-limits because of its importance to active living.

“The demographics are changing in this town, there are more old people,” he said.

“Monty Alford used the trail for exercise when he became older. It’s a great opportunity to promote physical activity.

“The city should look into building an extension beside the bridge if so many motorized users want to get across.”

The addition of a pre-fabricated truss bridge is one of seven solutions the trails and greenways committee is exploring.

It’s estimated that a secondary crossing like that would cost approximately $2.5 million.

The committee is scheduled to meet on Feb. 19 to narrow its recommendations down to one or two.

Other solutions being kicked around include launching a public education campaign to encourage motorized vehicle users to stick to trails on their side of the river.

Another option is to draw a line down the middle of the bridge so pedestrians could have one side, and motorized users could have the other.

Terence Tait, 36, is a Riverdale resident who said that not all snowmobile users could afford a trailer otherwise needed to drive out of the neighborhood to access other trails.

“About 95 per cent of the people my age in Riverdale use motorized vehicles,” he said.

“But in many cases we can only afford the snowmobile, and the bridge is the only access out.”

Barb Pratt said one of the reasons the bridge is so special is because it attracts so much wildlife.

“I’m speaking in defence of the animals, the beavers, the ducks, the birds, and others that make this place so special,” she said.

Another resident commended the city on its holiday lights and said it was the highlight of his commute to work every morning, which drew a round of applause.

The next town hall meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 10 at the Frank Slim Building at Shipyards Park.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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