Why is the Chief William Commanda Bridge closed for the winter?

The chief William Commanda bridge as seen in the winter. The river is frozen and snow is on the ground.
The Chief William Commanda Bridge will be closed for the winter. Photo by Charlie Senack.

By Charlie Senack

There will be no cross-country skiing on the Chief William Commanda Bridge this winter after the City of Ottawa announced it would be closed until the spring. 

Barricades went up at the bridge’s entry and exit points on Nov. 21 ahead of the city’s first significant winter weather event. In a memo sent out by city staff later that day, it read that 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,” part of the memo read. “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 and asking all residents to respect posted signage on site to please stay off the bridge for their safety.”

When the $23.9 million dollar multi-use pathway bridge was announced, it was branded as a seasonal crossing catering to various activities. 

The Kichi Sibi Winter Trail, which runs a 16 kilometer groomed path next to the bridge, was hoping to incorporate it into their route as a pilot project. Dave Adams, manager of the trail’s operations, said it was disappointing the partnership was not considered for this season. 

“The bridge is such an asset to our city and one of the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail’s main objectives is to provide the people of Ottawa an alternative to active transportation in winter,” he said. “We are a winter city. We are here if the city wants us.”

Dave poses for a photo while going cross country skiing.
Dave Adams, groomer of the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail, would like to incorporate the bridge into their network. Photo by Charlie Senack.

In the memo sent out by the city, they said opportunities will continue to be explored in order to see if the bridge could be groomed for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the future.  

“The City will use this first year of operation to assess winter use requirements and feasibility, and to better understand how the structure responds to winter weather,” they said.

Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper and Somerset ward representative Ariel Troster have both shared their disappointment with the decision. They are now pushing the city to find alternative solutions. 

The Chief William Commanda Bridge opened in August and saw 30,000 crossings in the first week alone. It has been a popular attraction for those looking to bike or walk from Ottawa to Gatineau.

Adams said regardless of the city’s decision, the entire duration of the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail will be groomed from Dominion Station to the Canadian War Museum near the Mill St. Brew Pub. This is the trail’s first year as their own stand-alone charity after parting ways with Dovercourt earlier this year. He said the grooming methods they use would not do harm to the bridge’s steel structure or wooden boardwalk.

“By nature, snow grooming equipment does not involve salt or plowing. It’s press and play. We pack the snow, we work with it, we make it smooth,” said Adams. “That’s our way of maintaining urban winter pathways.”

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