EDMONTON – There were no speeches. No ribbon cuttings. At 9:02 a.m. Friday, construction workers merely picked up the barricades and set them on the curb.
Even without any formal celebrations, Edmontonians began to party.
For much of the morning, cars, pedestrians and cyclists streamed across the bridge. Several people arrived hoping to be the first to cross it.
Some spent the morning just going back and forth.
“I wasn’t going to miss this,” beamed Mike Smith who had just crossed the bridge for the first time.
“I missed this bridge. We used to bike over here. You could get to these stores. It’s a great bridge.”
Other impromptu celebrations soon began.
One vehicle drove up to the bridge with its windows down. The people inside cheered as they began to cross the new span. They then popped the cork on a bottle of champagne.
In mid-morning, dozens of staff from the Royal Alberta Museum walked across the bridge to go for coffee. As they did, they shouted, “the museum staff are free.”
“We’re isolated there without the bridge so it’s nice to connect again with our neighbours here on High Street,” explained Nancy Nickolson.
Those neighbours said the same thing.
“You feel like you’re reconnected with your neighbours now, people I haven’t seen for 18 months living just across the bridge. Now I can just go seem them,” said Campbell Mackenzie, who lives on the east end of the 102 Avenue bridge.
For about an hour Friday morning, Mackenzie and his young sons Jack and Lachlan rode back and forth across the bridge.
At times, Campbell high-fived passing pedestrians.
“It feels amazing because it’s been two years. It’s easier to get to school now,” Jack Mackenzie said.
“It’s a lot more stabler,” Lachlan Mackenzie added.
Work to replace the bridge over Groat Road began in July 2014, and was set to last until September 2015. However, three of the girders buckled last March, shutting down Groat Road for weeks and pushing back the opening of the project.
An investigation into what went wrong found the bridge’s girders were not properly braced during construction. The contractor is paying the city more than $11,000 per day for the delays. That money goes towards extra transit costs and engineering costs the city is facing because of the bridge delay.
City officials are happy to put the project behind them.
“It’s relief for the citizens of Edmonton,” said the city’s General Supervisor of Special Projects Matt Boiko. “I know everybody’s been impacted by this, mostly the businesses in the area. We’re just really thankful with everyone’s patience and understanding. It’s been quite a real challenging couple of years.”
Several businesses near the bridge have complained about the extended closure.
Some claim the lack of traffic in the area has meant anywhere from 10 to 50 per cent less business.
The businesses who remain say the re-opening is a good reason to celebrate.
Allison MacLean owns Carbon Environmental Boutique.
“There have been many months where you’re getting ready to write that rent cheque or pay staff or pay suppliers and it’s been really tight,” said MacLean. “We’re really looking forward to it getting better.”
The new $32-million bridge will have four lanes of traffic which will allow ETS buses to travel across. The bridge will also have wider sidewalks and a bike lane.
Work on the sidewalks and railings will continue. The city says traffic on the bridge will be reduced to one lane in each direction during off-peak hours to complete that work.
The city is also planning weekend work on Groat Road to re-build medians.
All that work is expected to be complete by the end of August.