Old Skeena Bridge to undergo extensive rehab

The Old Skeena Bridge, left, is to undergo an extensive refit to extend its lifespan. (Ben Bogstie photo)The Old Skeena Bridge, left, is to undergo an extensive refit to extend its lifespan. (Ben Bogstie photo)
Plaque affixed to the Old Skeena Bridge notes its 75th anniversary in 2000. (Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine photo)Plaque affixed to the Old Skeena Bridge notes its 75th anniversary in 2000. (Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine photo)
Photo taken from the Thornhill side of the Old Skeena Bridge prior to the addition of the CN rail bridge at the location in 1953. (Photo courtesy the Kitimat Museum and Archive)Photo taken from the Thornhill side of the Old Skeena Bridge prior to the addition of the CN rail bridge at the location in 1953. (Photo courtesy the Kitimat Museum and Archive)
This photo, taken in approximately 1953, shows the realignment of the Old Skeena Bridge from the Terrace end that was done to accommodate the CN rail bridge. (Photo courtesy the Kitimat Museum and Archive)This photo, taken in approximately 1953, shows the realignment of the Old Skeena Bridge from the Terrace end that was done to accommodate the CN rail bridge. (Photo courtesy the Kitimat Museum and Archive)

The Old Skeena Bridge, built in 1925 and holding a place on the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine’s heritage registry, is to be closed down this year for an extensive rehabilitation project to extend its life.

Work “will include steelwork structural repairs, bridge bearing replacements, removal of lead primer and rust, a full paint recoating of the bridge, and the increase of sidewalk widths at key points for improved pedestrian use,” reads a project description released by the provincial transportation and infrastructure ministry.

A full closure to traffic will take place during the project although the ministry anticipates there will be opening periods during the 2022-2023 winter season when there will be no work underway.

“The bridge will not accommodate additional traffic loads, and a complete traffic closure is the only structurally safe option to deliver the project. This required closure will ensure the safety of workers at the site and also ensure this bridge serves the public for years to come,” the ministry’s project description states.

The ministry is to put the project out to tender soon with a view to starting construction this spring, closing down for the winter season and resuming next spring to finish by the end of the summer of 2023.

Removing lead primer will require scaffolding and, crucially, large pieces of fabric stretched out and secured to prevent debris from falling into the Skeena River below.

Closure to vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists means diverting all traffic to Hwy 16/Keith Ave.

The bridge’s opening in 1925 replaced a ferry, which had limited usefulness because of its size and vulnerability to changing water levels, and another bridge downstream at what is now called Ferry Island.

“The building of the Skeena Bridge allowed community members of Terrace and other settlements in the region to move more freely and safely across the Skeena River,” reads a Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine history of the structure in outlining its placement on the regional district’s heritage registry.

This will not be the first time the bridge has undergone a rehabilitation project — the construction of the CN rail bridge immediately beside the vehicle bridge, part of the rail spur to Kitimat coinciding with the development of the aluminum smelter there in 1953, required new spans and concrete anchor piers and a changing of entry and exit points.

And in 2001, the wooden deck, fashioned from African hardwood, was replaced by the current steel grate surface.

“The past use of this wood deck adds to the heritage value of the Skeena Bridge because for 48 years it was defined as the longest, one-lane, wood-decked, curved bridge in North America,” the regional district history explains.