Bridge issue divides North Hatley

By David Winch, Special to The Record

A bridge too far? Residents, politicians and local merchants gathered at three successive meetings Wednesday evening at North Hatley town hall to hear from experts of the Ministere des Transports du Quebec (MTQ) about the coming demolition and reconstruction of the bridge at the centre of town.
The project divides the town in more ways than one. Lake Massawippi narrows and flows out through the village centre into the Massawippi River, neatly dividing the village in two – with stores, services, residences, parks and recreation facilities on each side of the divide. Local residents cross the bridge in car or on foot up to a dozen times a day doing their daily business. Many people live on one side of town but work, shop, got to school or recreation on the other. Some fear a lengthy detour — 20 km along routes 108 and 143 — just to get from one side of town to the other.
This explains the close attention paid by the citizenry on Wednesday, with three separate meetings held to accommodate the interest. Two of the meetings were held for the twenty verified residents of the village who turned up – all social distanced and masked, while a third meeting was reserved for issues with local stores and businesses.
Staff from the Sherbrooke office of the MTQ present at the meetings first set out the parameters of the project through a visual presentation: they argued the crumbling bridge, built in 1947, is too old to be easily renovated and demolition is the only way forward. Foundations must be laid once again in the riverbed.
All traffic, then, must be halted as of August 3 to give the contractor a full five months to have the bridge ready for traffic again by the Christmas season. The former railway bridge that tourists use as a scenic lookout will be extended by a walkway, for pedestrian and cycle traffic to cross the river. The ministry also highlighted that the construction zone will remain open to boat traffic.
The MTQ staff shrugged, however, when asked about ongoing traffic, saying it was simply not possible to maintain vehicle circulation when a bridge is entirely demolished. No temporary structure is possible, they concluded.
They added that extensive detour signage will alert visitors of the dead-end at the town centre.
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