Norfolk braces for disruptions on major thoroughfare

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Regular users of the Queensway East in Simcoe are advised that the pending replacement of a bridge near the intersection of Norfolk Street North will disrupt traffic until later this fall.

Jason Godby, Norfolk’s interim general manager of public works, says preparatory work has begun and traffic disruptions are imminent.

“There have already been trees removed,” Godby told Norfolk council on March 16. “The contractor could be on site as early as next week.

“That is a major thoroughfare through the county and Simcoe. If people are wondering what’s happening, we’re ramping up and getting ready to repair that bridge.”

The Const. John Verral Memorial Bridge is named after an OPP officer from Simcoe who died in the line of duty as a member of the Golden Helmets Precision Riding Team at the Norfolk County Fair in 1971.

Plans are to convert the four-lane bridge into five-lanes. The $3.7-million project will be completed by the end of November.

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During construction, plans are to maintain two lanes of traffic heading east and west at all times. This will create bottlenecks at peak periods so the motoring public is advised to be patient or find an alternative route.

The 99-year-old bridge is receiving an overhaul because Canadian engineering standards say a bridge of this vintage should be replaced after 75 years. The bridge has undergone several rehabilitations and widenings since its construction in the early 1920s.

Construction will not only be difficult for the road-travelling public. The project has been deemed essential and therefore will be conducted with COVID-19 protocols in mind. Workers and pedestrians passing through the construction zone will be expected to wear masks and social distance until further notice.

“This includes social distancing both with other crew members and the public who may approach the job site,” Norfolk project manager Jeff Demeulemeester says in an update at the G. Douglas Vallee engineering website.

“We respectfully request that this social distancing be reciprocated by the public toward crew members on site.”

The bridge will be good as new once the work is complete. Stages ahead include full replacement of the bridge superstructure, sidewalk replacement, storm-sewer outlet replacement, road and asphalt restoration, and associated traffic control.

Funding has been supplied by the province. The contract has been awarded to Finnbilt General Contracting Ltd. of Stratford.

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“During construction, one eastbound lane, one westbound lane, and access to all residences and businesses will be maintained,” Demeulemeester says. “However, some traffic movements – that is, left turns in and out — may not be permitted within the construction management zone.

“Access to entrances on the north side of Queensway East from Norfolk Street North to Gilbertson Drive will be accessed by right turns from the westbound lane only.”

Motorists aren’t the only ones facing months of disruption.

The pedestrian underpass beneath the bridge on the Lynn Valley Trail will be closed for the duration but will be restored once the project is finished. Trail users are advised to re-access the trail by way of the pedestrian crosswalk at the intersection of Gilbertson Drive and the Queensway East.

Const. John Varrel was a patrol officer with the OPP in Oakville at the time of his passing. He died after a precision demonstration at the Norfolk County Fair went awry 50 year ago this year. In front of a large crowd at the grandstand, there was a collision and Verral was struck by heavy motorcycle traffic in the ensuing chaos.

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