“It’s a dangerous bridge.”
Sicamous Mayor Terry Rysz repeats this sentiment while discussing the R.W. Bruhn Bridge and a recent motor-vehicle collision that occurred on the Highway 1 structure.
“This is the second time in two years that we’ve almost had a transport truck end up in the channel,” said Rysz.”What happens if one of those transport trucks happens to be a carrier of fuel or something like that. Now we’ve got an environmental issue? And what happens when one of those trucks or any vehicle goes through the railing and ends up on top of a houseboat or any boat.”
Around 5:45 p.m. on Thursday, July 28, a westbound transport truck struck a vehicle on the bridge that was behind another vehicle turning left onto Old Spallumcheen Road. The transport truck then went into the eastbound lane and hit another vehicle. After it was struck, one of the vehicles knocked out a portion of the guardrail along the eastbound lane.
“It is incredibly lucky (they) didn’t go over the bridge,” said Sicamous Fire Chief Brett Ogino, who was among emergency personnel responding to the incident.
BC Emergency Health Services said one patient was transported by air ambulance to hospital in critical condition, and seven other patients were transported to hospital in stable condition.
In his time as both Sicamous mayor and a former councillor, Rysz has seen several collisions occur on the bridge, including two in October 2020. One of these involved a vehicle turning left onto Old Spallumcheen Road. Police said four vehicles were involved in the collision, with one of them being pushed into the guardrail along the westbound lane.
“I know people were taken to hospital and we’re very lucky that transport truck didn’t end up in the channel,” said Rysz.
For more than a decade, Sicamous council has been pushing the province to do something about the Bruhn Bridge, which opened in 1962.
“Also, that bridge has got chunks of cement falling off it – it has now for several years. It’s in bad shape and Highways has to get on with this,” said Rysz.
The mayor was referring to an incident in August 2011, in which a triangular strip of concrete approximately three feet long by three inches thick fell from the outside deck of the bridge. A boat passing underneath was struck by the debris. Fortunately no one was injured. Afterwards, the province conducted an inspection of the bridge and proceeded to chip away anything showing the slightest crack.
Options to replace the Bruhn Bridge became public in 2016, with the provincial government and Sicamous council leaning towards one option that would have had the Bruhn Bridge replaced with a four-lane structure, as well as a second bridge at Main Street going across the narrows. After open houses and opportunities to provide feedback, the public expressed preference for a five-lane option.
In November 2018, representatives of the federal and B.C. governments gathered in Sicamous council chambers to announce $224.5 million in funding to replace the Bruhn Bridge. The following month, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announced it was going with a five-lane structure only, with no second bridge at Main Street.
In March 2021, new concept drawings for the Bruhn Bridge showed the five-lane structure reduced to four lanes. At that time the ministry anticipated the bridge would take three years to construct, with the project going to tender in 2022. However, according to the ministry’s website, the bridge replacement project is currently in the detailed design phase, with utility relocations to begin this year, and archaeological investigations to be completed this year.
The delays and the changing designs only add to the frustration felt by Rysz, who maintains the community would be best served by the two-bridge option.
“I still think the right concept would be to build the secondary bridge across the narrows, because with Hyde Mountain (Mara Hills) building out and what’s happening over on the west side, I think it’s going to be even more onerous,” said Rysz.
The ministry said the July 28 collision damaged several sections of the railing, though there was no structural damage to the Bruhn Bridge. A temporary brace has been set up until the railing can be properly repaired. In the meantime, the speed limit on the bridge has been reduced to 30 km/h.
“You’d think with gas prices this year it would be slowing down, but I’ve never seen more traffic on that highway,” commented Rysz, who is concerned traffic volume will just continue to increase along the Bruhn Bridge. “That’s probably the main issue. It’s just overbearing. Not only that, what’s happening is that bridge is on an incline when you go from east to west; the transport trucks, they’re picking up speed and when they hit that bridge, they’re going way too fast.”
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