The ongoing saga over what to do with the Prince of Whales Bridge took another twist this week as the local incumbent MP and Minister of the Environment announced as part of her re-election campaign that she would work to re-open the bridge to cycling and pedestrian traffic.

The convenient, scenic, yet unsafe rail crossing between Ottawa and Gatineau that has been blocked from public use by a ridiculously priced fence erected by the City of Ottawa last year has been the subject of much debate, with various groups and municipalities all having their own vision of the bridge’s use, all while it sits closed and in need of millions in repairs.

Enter McKenna, who earlier this week said “The bridge is in very poor condition and not safe to be on. I want to help ensure it is rehabilitated so that it can be an important transportation asset for the city”.

McKenna estimates that re-opening the bridge to pedestrian, cycling, and hopefully ski traffic will cost about $10 million, a number that’s been floating around for a couple years now.

An artist's rendition of what a rehabilitated Prince of Wales bridge might look like from an article on Apt613 about the future of the bridge.
An artist’s rendition of what a rehabilitated Prince of Wales bridge might look like from an article on Apt613 about the future of the bridge.

I think most Ottawa residents, at least those who make use of our pathways and winter trails, will welcome this initiative. Liberal candidates for Hull-Aylmer Greg Fergus and William Amos for Pontiac, are also in support. It would provide a new gateway to Gatineau Park for cyclists, and make it easier for residents in Plateau and Aylmer to commute to Ottawa by bike, said Amos.

Big hurdles remain though, and not just the re-election of the Liberal MP and her party to power. Other discussions have been had about re-purposing the bridge to serve as a light rail line between Ottawa and Gatineau, and it’s not clear how McKenna’s promise will impact or be derailed by those municipal negotiations.

One group who’s excited about the possibility though are the cross country skiers – who have been enjoying ski trails on the Ottawa side along the Sir John A MacDonald Parkway in the winter.

Earlier today the SJAM gang posted their thoughts on the announcement:

When grooming the SJAM Winter Trail I am often asked if I would come over to the Quebec side of the river and groom the multi-use pathway over there as well.

This question kills me because it is an incredible area with amazing wind cover from the trees and lovely scenery. It is also home to thousands of folks that are in close proximity to the trail and are like you and me; just want to get out an active in winter but don’t have a place to go.

But with all the requests, I had to say no.

I would like commend Catherine McKennaGreg Fergus and William Amos – Pontiac for giving a glimpse of hope that this may be possible one day.

This darn bridge has been mired in the dark abyss of municipal/inter-provincial politics for years and no progress has been made in making it available to the public – even though it is a bleedingly obvious solution that would improve the lives of so many people within the Ottawa Gatineau region.

Just imagine. One central hub to store all the snow grooming equipment that could access a urban winter trail network of miles!

Urban winter pathways don’t need salt and they are not plowed. We just press, comb and manicure snow to make it traversable by human powered means such as skis, bikes, snowshoes or boots. With proper maintenance, a snow based pathway can be made just as safe.

I am not against light rail, but don’t you think commuting to work by skis , bikes or boots is just more fun?

We need to get more Canadians active. And commuting to work by human powered means is one way to do it.

[With content from the Ottawa Citizen]

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