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Ottawa's new $23.9 million pedestrian-cycling bridge closed for the winter


The popular, newly refurbished Chief William Commanda Bridge is now closed for winter.

The city of Ottawa says the closure is effective immediately, as a wintry mix of ice pellets, snow and freezing rain is in the forecast.

"With the dropping temperatures and an early winter weather event posing risks of ice accumulation on the bridge deck, the city is closing the structure today and asking all residents to respect posted signage on site to please stay off the bridge for their safety," a memo sent Tuesday said.

City staff say the bridge was not designed for winter pedestrian or cycling use.

"Due to the bridge's steel structure and timber plank surface, the city is unable to safely undertake any plowing, salting or grit operations," staff said.

Future winter use, such as using the bridge for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, is being explored, but no plans for such use are in place yet.

Speaking to reporters after Wednesday's city council meeting, General Manager of Public Works Alain Gonthier said winter use would require a groomed snowpack.

"The understanding was always that any opportunities for that structure would be a groomed structure to allow winter use. As a groomed structure, there would be a snowpack on it that would be maintained. That is still being pursued," he said. "It's closed for now because we can't keep it safe, but if we get to a situation where we're able to have a snowpack on it and it's possible to be groomed and we have a groomer to do it, then at that point we would reopen it, but only at a time that it's safe to do so."

In the meantime, the city says it will monitor the bridge this winter to see how it responds to the weather.

Coun. Jeff Leiper and Ariel Troster say they are opposed to the city's plan to close the multi-use pathway for the winter.

"Despite our stated opposition, the City has determined to close the Chief William Commanda Bridge for the winter," Leiper said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. "Ariel Troster and I will continue to press the City to find a way to keep it open safely."

Troster said they are "urging staff to find alternatives, including allowing the bridge to be groomed for skiing or fat bikes."

Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said he has used the bridge regularly since it opened, but safety is paramount.

"Our first priority always has to be the safety of residents. We don't want people going on the bridge and then suffering a catastrophic injury of some kind," he said.

"If there's a way forward where it can be groomed and there's enough snow for it to be groomed and there's not so much snow that it's dangerous, then of course we'll look at that, but we always have to put safety first."

The span across the Ottawa River, known formerly as the Prince of Wales Bridge, opened as a new multi-use pathway for cyclists and pedestrians this summer after a multi-million dollar renovation.

In its first week after its unofficial opening in early August, the bridge saw 30,000 crossings, including 7,500 in a single day.

Cyclists and pedestrians caught off guard over bridge closure

The bridge closure surprised many cyclists and pedestrians Wednesday.

Krystal Cochrane had hoped to cross the bridge as part of her run. "I ran from Britannia Village just to cross this bridge," she says. "I am disappointed because I ran a good run to get here."

On their morning walk, Ronnie and Pamela Ross said being able to loop from Ottawa to Gatineau is a big draw for people to get active. "I couldn't believe it because it is used by so many people," says Pamela. "It is a small kilometre stretch; you would think they could do something."

Ronnie Ross says, "It is a beautiful bridge and it allowed accessibility into Gatineau Park and it keeps cyclists off the road…and now it is closed which is really unfortunate we all paid money into it."

Leiper says he is hoping for grooming the trail but it isn't clear when that can happen.

"I am disappointed. What is new is that the bridge is not going to be groomed; at least that is what staff are telling us. The intention was never to plow the bridge, we can't put salt near the bridge, and so everyone's expectation was that the bridge would be groomed, the same way the Kitchi Zibi trail is," he said.

"What I think is taking us by surprise is that we are hearing that that is not going to be possible right now. Staff need to see that there is the ability for the snow to accumulate to a sufficient degree so they can groom the trail. They are unwilling to leave it open if it is not groomed, they are worried about an accumulation of snow in some places, icy patches in some others. "

He says it was his expectation that the bridge was going to be groomed. "That was very exciting because you would almost be able to cycle or ski from Westboro beach to almost Gatineau Park. It is a deep disappointment and we are pressing the city to do whatever it can to ensure the bridge is groomed this winter." 

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Leah Larocque. Top Stories

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