When I find myself lacking adequate time to undertake a northern canoe trip in the wilderness of the Canadian Shield, I turn my attention to local waterways.
Over the years I have made a few canoe trips upstream and downstream from E.C. Brown Memorial Park on the Welland River, which forms Pelham’s southern boundary.
The Welland River cannot compare with the more northern and pristine rivers that I have canoed, but it does have its own unique charm.
For example, if one travels downriver (to the east) from E.C. Brown Memorial Park they will encounter an historic and picturesque landmark spanning the river: O’Reilly’s Bridge.
At 106 years old, O’Reilly’s is the oldest bridge over the Welland River and one of the oldest of its kind in Southern Ontario. It was built in 1901, the same year Queen Victoria died.
It is a single-lane Parker truss bridge, quite unlike any other structure one can find spanning the Welland River.
When I recently learned that the Region of Niagara is considering removing O’Reilly’s Bridge in favour of constructing a larger, modern structure in its place, I decided to pay a visit to this local landmark.
Wild grapes vines creep along the concrete embankment adjacent to the iron bridge. Sprouting up from the shallow water were cattails, and dotting the surface were numerous lily pads. Arrowheads and other reeds grew in abundance along the shoreline.
At either end of this short bridge grow clusters of trees, and in the sheltered branches of a Manitoba Maple I noticed a bird’s nest. Its tenants, of course, had long since spread their wings and flown away.
In time past I have fished with friends underneath the bridge; something I am certain locals like myself have been doing for over a century under this bridge. Sunfish, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and the occasional northern pike constitute the main catch.
Even though it is October, I still see plenty of wild flowers growing along the edge of O’Reilly’s Road leading up to the crossing.
As I was observing this antique bridge, I found myself wondering why the Region would wish to remove it—and replace it with something large and modern.
While it is obviously in poor condition and in dire need of repair, tearing the bridge down and replacing it with a new one hardly seems like a logical solution.
Indeed, the Region’s consultant on this project estimated that the construction of the new bridge would cost 2.9 million dollars, whereas simply repairing the existing structure would cost only 1.3 million.
In other words, the Region could save 1.6 million in taxpayers’ money by preserving a piece of our heritage. Nor would constructing a two-lane concrete structure bridge in this rural area be an environmentally friendly undertaking.
The contention that the crossing needs to be expanded to two-lanes in order to accommodate existing traffic is flatly false. The consultant’s report on replacing the bridge claimed that the average daily traffic volume on the bridge was 600 to 700 vehicles.
In actual fact nine traffic counts conducted between 1999 and 2006 yielded a daily average of only 538 vehicles crossing the bridge.
The inflated numbers were the result of including traffic counts done while Beckett’s Bridge (the nearest river crossing to the west) was closed. The closure of that bridge increased traffic on O’Reilly’s to an average of 910 vehicles per day.
When Beckett’s Bridge re-opened, the average daily vehicle use of O’Reilly’s fell dramatically—to 477 vehicles per day.
Therefore, when examining the data in its proper context, it is clear that the bridge need not be replaced by a two-lane structure.
It is my sincere belief that replacing O’Reilly’s Bridge with a new bridge makes no sense from a heritage, environmental, and economical viewpoint. Indeed, it would be a shortsighted and costly decision.