A bridge too far?

Most municipalities suffer from too many needs and not enough dollars. It is a tale as old as time.

In recent years however the problem has become more acute.

In order to address that crisis, Centre Wellington added a 2% levy with the specific intent of tackling its bridge infrastructure deficit. A plan was struck, the public supported it and patiently waits for action. Until this past week.

Residents of old West Garafraxa are generally passive, like rural residents elsewhere in the township who have put up with closed bridges for years now. As one old timer suggested to us not long ago, “you get used to it.” That’s not the point, nor should anyone involved quietly accept their current plight as poor country cousins.

Rural residences fetch a hefty assessment and contribute mightily to township coffers. In recent years they have watched numerous improvements to urban areas as the state of their local infrastructure falls further into disrepair. In the worst of cases, their ability to even cross a small creek or river to avoid the long way into town has been hampered by closed bridges and weight limitations.

Of course, all of this bad news is documented. Absent from that technical assessment, gleefully referenced as a “remarkable” bit of business, is any regard for the taxpayer – or in other words, the people.

This week, one of our reporters chronicles some insight from locals on how closed bridges are affecting them. A farmer at the height of his hay growing season lost significant hours during a time when every minute counts.

We hazard to guess if council was inhabited by farmers (as was often the case) in the rural townships, Centre Wellington would have a couple sites closed at the most. Instead there is a baker’s dozen of condemned structures and restrictions on several more.

It is untenable and demands an immediate course correction.

Inaction has meant the flow of goods for farmers and rural business has been stymied, country dwellings stand at risk of increased insurance costs and families themselves are placed in peril should emergency services be held up. This double standard for urban and rural taxpayers needs to change.

The adoption of an asset plan is necessary, just as roads and bridge needs studies historically served as a measurement of need. Missing now, however, is a critical resource long ago eliminated back in the Mike Harris days. There used to be advisors with MTO who would commiserate with the local road superintendent and encourage ways to solve problems.

Nowadays, problems mount and solutions seem stalled at first base, content to have completed the bookwork only.

Few doubt the near future will not include some financial pain. Between inflation and the very real potential for an economic backslide, the new council will face some hard decisions for fiscal 2023.

Identifying priorities and needs over the nice-to-have projects that have consumed attention and financial resources in recent times will be critical.

Utility should come into play when considering a bridge too far. There’s too much at stake to avoid that strategy.