Agassiz Rosedale Bridge will be obsolete by 2057—if nothing is done

A decade-old report shows that the Agassiz Rosedale Bridge will be obsolete in 35 years. It had recommendations to make the bridge last longer, but the province isn't implementing them.

By Grace Kennedy | March 10, 2022 |5:00 am

The Agassiz Rosedale Bridge could be functionally obsolete in 35 years if the crossing isn’t upgraded. And the province has no plans to make those improvements.

The existing two-lane bridge that connects Agassiz and Chilliwack will not be able to handle projected traffic levels by 2057, a government report outlining the options to upgrade or rebuild the Agassiz Rosedale Bridge explained. At that point the bridge will need to be replaced, ideally with a four-lane crossing, according to the now decade-old report, which The Current obtained through a Freedom of Information request.

When the renewal options analysis was developed in 2012, it said the most financially prudent option would be to perform seismic upgrades on the bridge without doing any additional expansions. It also recommended widening the bridge’s deck to allow space for pedestrians and cyclists. The bridge was overall in good shape, the report noted. Although it needed seismic upgrades, the bridge itself would likely still be in a usable condition after its traffic capacity was reached.

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When the report was written in 2012, the upgrades were expected to cost $4.2 million (roughly $5.1 million in 2022 dollars). The cost has since quintupled. Today, the province has budgeted $25 million for seismic upgrades, which will include joint replacements, repairs to steel components, and a new coating for the steel to prevent it from deteriorating. There is no plan to widen the bridge deck.

(The $25 million does not include upgrades to Pier 7, one of the pillars supporting the bridge on the Rosedale side. The shifting flow of the river in the area had rendered the pier unstable, and upgrades took place in 2019. That funding was included in the $36 million intended to rehabilitate both the Rosedale Overpass and the bridge.)

Although the Ministry of Transportation said in the spring of 2021 that the planned upgrades would take place that summer, it now says the project has yet to be tendered as stakeholder consultations are continuing. Once the upgrades get underway, construction is expected to take three years.

The planned seismic upgrades were identified as necessary in the now decade-old renewal options analysis, with the joint replacements being of particular urgency due to years of water leaks.

However, the 2012 report also said the bridge’s current condition represented “an excellent opportunity for the Ministry to… provide a new lease of life for this signature structure.” The report recommended significant upgrades, including widening the deck by three metres and eliminating the gradual incline onto the main bridge from the Agassiz side.

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When the Agassiz Rosedale Bridge was built in 1956, the main channel of the river was closer to Agassiz than Rosedale, where it currently sits. Where the bridge once passed over little more than a gravel bar, it now is over farmland and a partially dry channel. (Images from a report used in the renewal options analysis show farm equipment being stored under the shallow bridge approach.)

The provincial analysis recommended filling in the piers that support the bridge above Agassiz farmland. That would effectively extend the road further towards the main bridge, reducing maintenance costs for the province.

Although the report recommended the change, it would have been far from simple. Raptors often nest underneath that section of the bridge; the province would have had to relocate any endangered species before construction could start. The work would also require a flood plain study to ensure it would not cause issues for Kent residents in the event of a flood.

A Ministry of Transportation spokesperson said the recommendation would not be included as part of the planned upgrades. They did not explain why when asked by The Current.

The report’s other recommendation, to widen the bridge deck, would have bought the bridge some time before it became obsolete. Widening the deck by 1.5 metres on either side could extend the bridge’s functional lifespan by 10 years. Although the expansion wouldn’t be enough for an additional lane, it would increase the shoulder on either side of the bridge, allowing safer biking and walking space. Such an expansion would require additional structural supports.

The report did offer other options. Expanding the bridge by nearly a metre on either side wouldn’t require additional supports, but would still provide more safety for cyclists. While not extending the bridge’s lifespan, it would provide an opportunity to introduce railings that meet provincial standards. The existing railings were installed when the bridge was built in 1956 and do not conform to provincial standards. New railings would need to be at least 17 centimetres taller and crash-tested.

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The District of Kent has been advocating for better walking and cycling paths over the bridge for more than a decade, and had said it would “continue to work with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure” to get upgrades to the bridge as part of its 2040 Official Community Plan. Importantly, Kent wanted the light posts on either side of the bridge moved to better accommodate pedestrians and cyclists. In the long term, Kent said it would advocate for a four-lane bridge with separated cycling and walking paths.

A ministry spokesperson wrote there were no plans to widen the structure as part of the rehabilitation project, but did not explain why when asked by The Current.

The analysis estimated that the bridge would become functionally obsolete when peak traffic saw 1,700 cars travelling in one direction over the course of one hour. In 2020, closer to 625 vehicles travelled one way during an hour of peak traffic. That number was an increase from 2016, but not significantly.

Whether the bridge will meet that threshold as soon as expected will depend on a number of factors, including population growth in the Fraser Valley as a whole. As The Current has reported previously, and new census data confirms, the Fraser Valley is growing significantly. Chilliwack has grown 20% between 2011 and 2021, while Kent and Harrison have added 670 residents. More people in those two communities likely result in more commuting traffic, along with increased trips to shop or travel.

The traffic impact on the bridge could be slowed if local transit use increases. BC Transit is currently working on a Transit Future Action Plan for Chilliwack and surrounding rural areas, including Agassiz and Harrison. That plan could see expanded weekday services between Chilliwack and Harrison, which could reduce the number of vehicles on the bridge during peak hours. BC Transit will be adding new technology to routes this spring, but that will not increase the number of buses in the eastern Fraser Valley.

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Grace Kennedy

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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