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Future of Ross River bridge unclear

A second engineer's report has confirmed that demolishing the Ross River footbridge is the best option. But the government won’t say what it will do until it has had a chance to consult with the community.

A second engineer’s report has confirmed that demolishing the Ross River footbridge is the best option.

But the government won’t say what it will do until it has had a chance to consult with the community, confirmed Jennifer Macgillivray, Yukon’s director of infrastructure development, in a teleconference yesterday.

The walkway has been well-used by the community to access hunting and fishing grounds on the far side of the Pelly River.

“We really depend on that bridge,” said Chief Brian Ladue of the Ross River Dena Council in October. “It’s been a part of the community for 70 years. A lot of our members go across the river. They have cabins just down the road here.”

An engineering consulting firm recommended in September that the bridge be demolished as soon as possible due to safety concerns.

The bridge had sustained much more significant damage than was previously thought, according to the report.

But a subsequent report by the same firm considered options for repairing the bridge to extend its life.

That report is dated November 29, and was released to the media yesterday.

It compares the life-cycle costs for demolishing the bridge and rebuilding it now, versus conducting minor repairs and taking it down in five years, versus doing major repairs and taking it down in 25 years.

Although all of the options considered the cost of replacement, estimated at just under $4 million, the government has not yet committed to rebuilding the bridge when it comes down, said Macgillivray.

The report found that bringing the bridge down now is the best option from a cost and a public safety perspective.

However, it will also result in the longest period of time when Ross River residents are unable to use the bridge to cross the river.

If the government acts to replace the bridge now, it could re-open as early as the summer of 2015, according to the report.

Minor repairs could be completed by winter of 2014, and major repairs might be done by spring of 2015.

The government will host a public meeting in Ross River this week or next, said Macgillivray.

She could not confirm if the government would be able to come up with the $4.5 million required to demolish and rebuild the bridge now, if that option is chosen.

The bridge was constructed by the U.S. Army in 1944 to carry an oil pipeline over the river. It was never intended as a permanent structure, and never intended as a pedestrian bridge.

The bridge has been in disrepair for quite some time. Inspection reports on the bridge date back to 1979.

The government closed the bridge in August 2012, but the warning sign and chain across the walkway deterred few in the community from crossing.

In September of this year, when the engineers found the bridge to be at risk of imminent collapse, the government responded quickly by removing the stairs leading up to the walkway and blocking it with plywood.

Ferry service was also temporarily shut down, given the risk of the bridge collapsing onto the ferry.

That action left about 50 people stranded on the far side of the Pelly River.

Community Services organized boats to take people across, and the ferry was put back in on limited conditions to move vehicles and horses.

Ferry service ended on October 10 as scheduled, leaving no public access to the other side of the river until freeze up.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at