Province pulls u-turn on QEW Credit River bridge, opts to rehabilitate the heritage site
The provincial government has completed a series of dizzying u-turns on the Mississauga Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) Credit River Crossing, now pledging to rehabilitate the heritage site instead of demolishing it. In 2019 alone, the province has switched between announcing repairs for the bridge, to setting its preference for demolition and finally returning to its original plans to repair the iconic piece of infrastructure.
First built in 1934, the bridge was widened in the 1960s, with its original structure preserved. In 2009, the province recognized the bridge as one of “provincial” significance under the Heritage Act, pointing to its integration in the landscape, sweeping arches and views from the deck as justification for the status.
Despite this rating, in November the PCs shifted their position and moved toward demolition. Despite no environmental assessment being completed for the option, the Ministry of Transportation stated its preference for tearing down the structure and creating two box girder bridges instead.
The option previously preferred by the province which would have seen the heritage structure torn down.
Though this position was a “preference” and not the final position, the change of heart was clear.
Speaking to The Pointer at the time, Bob Nichols, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation, said that “several factors, including cost and lifespan of the new structure” led the province to choose “replacement rather than rehabilitation [as] the best choice for the QEW Credit River Bridge.”
However, as suddenly as demolition was put on the table, it was taken off again. On Wednesday morning (December 18), the province sent out a press release entitled “Ontario Preserving Historic Bridge in Mississauga.” Glossing significantly over the process which took place last month, the release said: “In November, the government published options for the project and invited feedback from the public. Based on the feedback received, the government made the decision to preserve the original heritage structure of the bridge.”
In line with the original plan, the QEW bridge will now be repaired and a second structure built to its north to accommodate road widening and increased traffic along the highway.
"This is a government that listens to local communities and values their input on important projects like this," said Rudy Cuzzetto, PC MPP for Mississauga-Lakeshore. "At over 80 years old, this bridge needs major rehabilitation now, to ensure it remains safe for the public. However, we recognize it is both a provincially significant heritage bridge, and a symbol of the Credit River Valley, and I'm very proud of our commitment to preserve it."
Rudy Cuzzetto, PC MPP for Mississauga-Lakeshore (centre) beside Lisa MacLeod (left), minister for heritage, sport, tourism and culture, and MPP Kinga Surma, parliamentary assistant to the minister for transportation.
Mississauga politicians were delighted with the change. Mayor Bonnie Crombie tweeted her thanks to the province for “listening to residents and council”, while Ward 1 Councillor Stephen Dasko said he was “very pleased” to see the government listening. Vocal councillor Carolyn Parrish shared her “sincere appreciation to the Government of Ontario” for the change of heart.
However, as with the decision to demolish the bridge, the rationale for saving it is equally unclear. Vocal community outcry to the plan was undeniable, yet Cuzzetto and the Ministry of Transportation had argued that the decision to demolish was based on evidence and fact, not popularity or perception.
In April, when the bridge was set for repairs, PC MPP Kinga Surma (Etobicoke Centre), Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister for Transportation said: "Repairing bridges is part of our plan to keep Ontario moving. Our government is respecting taxpayers and protecting the things that matter most as we invest in Ontario's highways."
In their about-turn in November, Cuzzetto justified the demolition preference. “As Councillor Damerla correctly pointed out at Council... it’s not true that the existing bridge is rated OK for the next 75 years; after 85 years, it has reached the end of its useful life, and it often requires emergency repairs and lane closures. Either replacement or extensive reconstruction is needed to ensure public safety.”
As of 2019, the bridge is 85 years old, yet the provincial re-announcement that it will rehabilitate the bridge includes no details of “emergency repairs” in the near future. The project is not yet listed on the province’s interactive Ontario Builds website, while the tendering process for the contract is ongoing.
“We are a government that listens,” Cuzzetto added. “Our final decision will be based on the evidence, and on the feedback we receive as part of this open and transparent process. Any suggestion otherwise is false.”
Yet, little more than a month after that comment was made, with environmental assessment and public input not due to start until March, the government changed its mind. If the plan was to listen to feedback through a formal process and evaluate the evidence, it seems unlikely that was done sufficiently in a month. Effective local advocacy has taken place since November, without a doubt, yet there is no sign of the evidence the province touted before.
While many in Mississauga are delighted that the bridge will remain standing and continue to be a key piece of heritage, any new information that has come into the province’s possession is unclear.
It appears the government has responded to the city’s negative reaction and public pressure, something the PCs have shown themselves to be quite sensitive to in the past, including the reversal of budget cuts announced last year, and Premier Doug Ford’s promise to developers to open the Greenbelt, which he back pedaled on the minute public backlash ensued.
Though the QEW Credit River Crossing has been a complicated story full of twists and turns, few in Mississauga will care. Council are clearly delighted that the province will be keeping its original promise to rehabilitate the bridge, while MPP Cuzzetto has an achievement to put on his campaign leaflets for 2022.
Now residents will hope to see shovels in the ground on the project as soon as possible to guarantee the government’s latest promise is kept and to stop them from flip flopping once again.
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