A team from the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) and the Ottawa office of engineering firm Jacobs was at the February 11 Hawkesbury town council meeting to explain plans to replace the bridge on County Road 17 at the Highway 34 interchange, and to replace the nearby bridge that carries County Road 17 over the CN railway tracks and Hawkesbury Creek.

The work is supposed to take place this year, but provincial funding has still not yet been confirmed.  The MTO has not released a projected cost for the project.

Both bridges date back to 1955 and are in deteriorating condition.  The MTO has retained ownership of the two structures even though 17 became a county road 21 years ago.

The new bridges will be concrete-on-steel beams and will be constructed beside the existing rigid frame concrete structures and then slid into place.

The interchange ramps, which now allow complete exiting and merging to and from County Road 17, will also be changed.  The new ramp approaching 17 eastbound will end at a stop sign and drivers will have to wait and make a right turn to get onto the highway.  Westbound drivers will have to make a 90-degree right turn when exiting County Road 17 to reach Highway 34.

The merge and exit lanes on County Road 17 for the on and off ramps will be removed, and the so-called speed change lanes that form a four-lane cross-section on Highway 34 underneath the bridge will be removed but there will still be turning lanes to access the ramps from Highway 34.

According to the MTO report, projected traffic volumes do not warrant keeping the four-lanes on Highway 34 and allows for cost-savings.

“I beg to differ,” said Mayor Paula Assaly.

She said traffic volumes are likely going to increase, not decrease.

“You’re basically removing the four lanes on Highway 34,” she said.

The MTO insisted they are “speed change” lanes and not through-traffic lanes.

“We are not predicting the traffic is less in the future,” a member of the team later said in response to a question from Councillor Antonios Tsourounakis about traffic volumes.

An MTO representative said the original structure was over-built for higher traffic volumes that never occurred; they did not have copies of the design of the 1955 structures.

Many temporary measures will be taken to improve traffic flow in Hawkesbury and to notify drivers in the surrounding area that the work is taking place, and there will be detours.

The temporary measures include extra lane space at traffic-light controlled intersections on McGill Street, temporary traffic lights where Tupper Street meets Main Street East, and temporarily putting covers over the traffic lights at the corner of Main Street East and William Street.

A detour route will follow Tupper and Main Streets and the existing interchange ramps will be used to form a diversion around the bridge work.

County Road 17 is expected to be closed for up to four weeks, and Highway 34 will be closed for three weekends in the interchange area.

Chief Administrative Officer Daniel Gatien wanted to be sure there will be signage at the Highway 417 and 34 interchange to make sure drivers are aware of the work.  Other advance signage will be placed on Highway 34 and County Road 17 closer to Hawkesbury.

Gatien also expressed reservations about the proposed reductions to the merge lanes on County Road 17.

“We’re going to have some issues at that intersection,” Gatien said about temporarily covering the traffic lights at Main and William Streets.

The MTO said there would be more problems if they were not temporarily covered with bags.

Gatien said the municipality would come back and ask for the bags to be removed if there are problems.