A major pedestrian and cycling span connecting the Hamilton to Brantford Rail Trail over Binkley Hollow, just east of University Plaza, is closed due to structural decay. The deck of the bridge has been in bad shape for a few years, pieces of plywood and particle board patch the surface, making for a bumpy ride, but it appears that below the deck things were getting bad too. A major beam break has closed the bridge, requiring users to follow the footpath that parallels the bridge just beside the structure.
Cyclists in the west end of Hamilton are finding bridges to be a problem this year, with the McKittrick Bridge contra flow bike lane over highway 403 closed during reconstruction.
While the alternative trail allows for a continuous journey along the rail trail, the loss of the bridge means a steeper grade up and down each side of the ravine for human powered travellers, and may mean greater difficulty for users of scooters or mobility aids.
This is one of the busiest off road pedestrian links between west Hamilton and Dundas.
Bridge was examined hours before collapse
Hamilton Spectator, June 11, 2011
Two hours before the Hamilton Conservation Authority became aware of a major beam break on a Dundas bridge last weekend, a staffer inspected it and did not report any problems.
The agency said it has been monitoring the Rail Trail trestle bridge for the past year, but does not keep records of inspections, repairs or complaints about any of its bridges.
A major beam on the Dundas bridge collapsed on Sunday. It was reported to the HCA by a passerby at 10 a.m. A superintendent had inspected it at 8 a.m.
“He called me and told me it had looked fine,” said Tony Horvat, director of land management for the authority.
He said staff inspect the bridges and call him if they find issues. Staff are not engineers, but Horvat said they have 20 to 30 years of trail maintenance experience.
“It’s common sense stuff,” Horvat said of the staff’s regular inspections.
He did not know exactly how many bridges the HCA is responsible for, but guessed about 20, including roughly a dozen structures in Dundas, and two steel bridges at Confederation Park.
Horvat said he occasionally takes notes or photographs during his inspections, but has no formal system for storing reports.
The trestle bridge is made up of nine, approximately 7-metre-long wood sections. In its entirety, it’s roughly 60 metres long, between 2.5 and 3.5 metres high, and accessible only to pedestrians and cyclists.
It lies adjacent to a path, so Horvat said there will be very little inconvenience while the bridge is closed.
Horvat, a civil engineer, performs annual inspections on the bridge himself. If he finds something wrong, he will make a note or make a call to get it fixed.
If something more serious occurs, he keeps a project file.
There has been no project file for this bridge since a 1995 environmental assessment.
HCA park superintendent Paul Piett inspected the bridge on the Sunday morning, and reported no problems. Two hours later, a passerby stopped at the HCA trail office to inform staff of the fallen beam.
The City of Hamilton’s asset management staff said they have a strict provincial mandate for inspections on their own bridges.
Hamilton has 393 bridges with a span greater than three metres — which means they fall under the Ontario Structure Inspection Manual (OSIM).
OSIM inspections are done by structural engineers who check the bridge’s structure, substructure and deck for any signs of deterioration or failure.
“It’s a pretty wholesome and comprehensive inspection on all components,” said the city’s John Murray.
General inspections are done biannually, and detailed inspections are done whenever a critical problem is identified. All information goes into the Ontario Bridge Management System (OBMS).
The province said these standards fall under the Public Transportation and Highway Improvement Act (PTHIA) and only apply to public bridges, versus private ones. They said factual considerations such as whether a bridge is located inside a controlled admission area may be relevant to determining whether it’s considered public.
It is unclear if any of the HCA bridges fall under these regulations.
Horvat said he was not familiar with OSIM.
A third party engineer is assessing the Dundas beam break, but Horvat said he doesn’t yet know what the repairs will entail.