Residents of Meaghers Grant, N.S., are counting their lucky stars: there’s been no emergency yet, but if first responders were called to a home in their rural community, it could take a dangerously long time for the vehicles to get there.
Since November 2019, the Dillman Bridge on Wyse Road has been out of commission — removed by the province after suffering irreparable damage in a truck accident.
For nearly 100 years, the bridge crossed the Musquodoboit River, connecting Meaghers Grant to Old Guysborough Road and communities like Devon, Antrim and Goffs. It was the primary link between Meaghers Grant, the Halifax airport and Highway 102.
Without it, an estimated 1,400 households in the region are forced to take lengthy detours — not just an inconvenience, they say, but a safety concern as well.
“If they do get a fire, it’s probably going to add anywhere from — I’d say 10 to 15 minutes and maybe 20,” said Glen Cole, a former volunteer fire chief for the community. “So they have to get up and go around.
“…It could mean the difference between saving a building and losing it, and maybe somebody’s life too if they’re in it.”
Community members allege Nova Scotia’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has not been forthcoming on when and if the bridge will be replaced.
In an emailed statement, the department told Global News it is designing a replacement bridge, but it could not explain when and how that was communicated to residents in time for publication of this story.
“The loss of this bridge was unexpected,” wrote spokesperson Marla MacInnis. “The Department began pre-engineering and design work immediately to support the replacement of the structure in 2021/2022.”
A bridge of one kind or another has crossed the Wyse Road portion of the Musquodoboit River since 1826. The Dillman Bridge was roughly 100 years old when its guardrail was struck by a pickup truck that had blown a tire on Nov. 20, 2019.
Commuters in Meaghers Grant and neighbouring communities have been instructed to use a bridge on Cole Road to access Old Guysborough Road, but the detour is at least 10 kilometres and can take between 10 and 20 minutes. On several occasions, that bridge has been closed down, forcing them onto an even longer detour.
The province told Global News “it is not feasible to install a temporary structure,” but did not explain why.
“If I’m going to town, it’s 10 kilometres extra — probably 20 minutes,” said Wyse Road resident Steve Berry. “It impacts school buses for sure, the school buses used to come over this bridge every day.”
“Come the springtime, will we need 28 employees? I’m not sure,” added Yvonne Kerr, whose family owns the River Oaks Golf Club in Meaghers Grant. The club is most easily accessed using the Dillman Bridge.
“We have 30 tournaments a year, approximately 2,000 customers — there’s a lot of golf courses, they could always go somewhere else.”
Earlier this month, more than 100 residents of Meaghers Grant signed a petition asking Halifax Regional Council for support in pressuring the province for a solution. Hundreds more have sent signed letters to Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines, seeking at minimum, a temporary replacement for the Dillman Bridge.
“Emergency vehicles (fire and ambulance) will be required to travel an extra distance of 15 kms to reach the furthest elderly resident,” reads the widely circulated letter. “This adds an extra 20 minutes response time to the emergency services current time frame to reach their destination. This, in my opinion, is totally unacceptable.”
The community is seeking a Bailey bridge — a kind of portable truss bridge — as an interim solution.
Coun. Steve Streatch, who represents the residents of Meaghers Grant, said the province has Bailey bridges in its existing inventory.
“We agree that a permanent replacement has got to be planned for and we know that’s going to take time, but in the meantime, the community cannot be cut off to this degree,” Streatch told Global News. “Anything we’ve got back officially or otherwise has been that they really weren’t interested in putting a Bailey Bridge or a temporary bridge up.
Streatch said the province has asked residents to take other routes, “including a bridge that’s the same age and likely worse condition on Cole Road.”
“People are very afraid that if they have to continue to drive over that, that bridge as well will be deteriorated to the point of it being unusable,” he said.
Streatch presented the petition to Halifax Regional Council, and Mayor Mike Savage has agreed to pen a letter to Hines, pushing for a rapid response.
In an emailed statement, Emergency Health Services said call volumes in Meaghers Grant and the surrounding area have been historically low, but it was not able to provide specific numbers.
“EHS Operations crews typically use alternate routes to get to calls in that area,” wrote spokesperson Remo Zaccagna. “EHS Operations uses a system that can re-calculate the best suggested routes of travel based on updated road closures information received from the provincial government weekly.”