Ross River bridge will come down

The Ross River footbridge has deteriorated beyond repair and needs to be demolished. The Yukon government sprang into action earlier this week when an engineering consultant found the bridge to be on the point of collapse.

The Ross River footbridge has deteriorated beyond repair and needs to be demolished.

The Yukon government sprang into action earlier this week when an engineering consultant found the bridge to be on the point of collapse.

If it were to fall, the bridge could damage the nearby ferry across the Pelly River.

Ferry service was cancelled Sunday. It resumed Tuesday under restricted conditions and a limited schedule.

The footbridge had been closed since August 2012. The government erected a sign warning people not to cross, and put a chain across the walkway.

But that wasn’t enough to deter many.

Megan Hoferichter, a teacher who is new to the community, walked across the bridge a couple of weeks ago with a friend.

She had been waiting for the ferry, but became impatient, she said.

“You could see that it was tilted, slanted down, as you were walking across it. It was swaying a little bit. You could tell that it wasn’t safe. We probably shouldn’t have walked over it.”

She saw the sign saying the bridge was closed, and climbed over the chain anyway, she said.

“It didn’t say, ‘You’re forbidden,’ or something,” said Hoferichter.

“I’ve been on worse bridges before. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but I’ve been on some pretty sketchy-looking bridges in the past.”

The government has since removed the stairs up to the bridge and boarded up the walkway with sheets of plywood.

The loss of that access has affected the community, said Hoferichter.

“A lot of people have stories about it, and how it has affected their lives.

“It’s big news over here.”

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.

“It was completed rapidly,” said Jerry Lum, the engineer hired to assess the condition of the bridge. “It was not designed with any of the details that we would need today. For instance, a lot of the fasteners were not galvanized. It was strictly built to carry an oil pipeline across the river.

“I do not think the U.S. Army had intended the bridge to be used as a pedestrian bridge for 70 years. Unfortunately we don’t have any drawings or records of the bridge, and we have no idea what the design criteria was.”

Although the bridge has undergone a series of repairs in the last several years, it has exceeded its usable life, said Lum.

The most disturbing is the condition of the head beam on the north tower, which supports the cables that hold up the bridge.

The head beam is tilting 12 degrees under the weight of the cables, up from four degrees in 2009.

There are cracks right through the metal webbing of the beam.

It is on the point of collapse, said Lum.

“A high wind could bring all this to an end,” said Mike Johnson, deputy minister of highways and public works. “And probably even worse would be a wet snow.”

The priority for the government is first ensuring the safety of people needing to cross the river, and then figuring out how to safely demolish the bridge, said Jennifer Macgillivray with Community Services.

The government has not yet decided whether the structure will be replaced, she said.

Before the ferry comes out for the winter on October 10, the government has to get about 20 vehicles, 27 horses and 50 people back across the river.

Many of them may still be in the dark about the disruption in service.

No members of the public are allowed to cross on the ferry. Community Services is shuttling people across on a boat.

When the ferry comes out, the community will lose access to the north side until freeze-up.

“The community of Dawson faces a similar situation this time of year, and I think that there just needs to be some preparations made in order for those people to not use the bridge,” said Macgillivray.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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