By Chris Pickup

In what idiotic universe are new planks nestled then metal-bound next to rotted and likely insect-ridden vegetated planks, the whole to be covered up by yet another deck, underneath which the old planks will quietly continue to rot and contaminate each other and possibly the decking above?

Especially when the whole is suspended 40ft above the Grand River.

Welcome to Haldimand County, where bad decisions generate other bad decisions, and so on ad infinitum. This one is looking to be a coverup to keep costs down while kicking the consequences down the road to a future set of staff and council.

The original projected cost of the Cayuga bridge and rail trail was $2m to be financed from debentures against ward 2’s community vibrancy fund (CVF), and included replacement of all railway ties.

Many residents were critical of the proposal back then, and opposition has only risen since.

However, in November 2016 the county hired Witzel Dyce Engineering Inc. to do a general condition assessment of the Cayuga rail bridge for reuse as a pedestrian bridge, as part of what is now imaginatively touted as Cayuga Grand Vista trail.

The company did a visual inspection of wood railway ties, structural steel framing and mason/concrete piers, but no destructive testing. Did they even poke a screwdriver into a tie or two to check for internal insect damage not yet showing on the surface?

They noted the ties appeared to be standard softwood rail ties and were coated with a wood preservative.

Conditions were worse on the east end where the nearby vegetation likely increased the rate of decay. Some ties were severely rotted with the cores of the ties completely hollowed out. Several ties were missing. There was a risk of failure in some of these members under even light foot traffic loading.

The report concluded approximately 50 ties would need to be replaced. Coincidentally, the cost of the trail was reduced to $1.4.

Fast forward to 2018.

It is now 21 months since that report, and conditions have probably  worsened, since the county has seen fit to use obviously rotted railway ties, as seen in these pictures.

Some internet research brought up the website of Rails to Trails Conservancy, which noted the chemicals railroad ties are treated with can pose problems to rail development.

The website mentions creosote but from the Witzel Dyce description in their  report it appears creosote has not been used on the Cayuga bridge. Rails to Trails Conservancy has this to say about the creosote alternative.

“Wood coated in chromated copper arsenate (CCA), which appears green, can be even more dangerous. This preservative protects against rotting with chromium, copper and arsenic, and it is a common alternative to creosote for treating railroad ties.

“Soil surveys may come back with other severe issues such as lead and arsenic. These harmful chemicals can be left behind in freight corridors, as they are produced from coal ash and cinder.”

The question of the day is, has the county done a proper environmental assessment on this site? And what happens when the unreplaced railroad ties start to crumble, dropping their toxic load into the river below?

Witzel Dyce also warned due to the serious life safety risks present on the existing bridge structure, it is strongly recommended that it is closed off to pedestrian traffic until repairs to the walkway structure is complete including the railway tie replacement, walking surface and guard rail system.”

Why then, have  ATVers gained such easy access in the past week or so  as evidenced by damage left behind as they knocked over a laughable barrier and made free with the trail? How would our county insurance deal  with any claims should someone be hurt?

According to the Witzel Dyce report, the structural steel of the bridge was considered to be in fair to good condition with some mild surface rust but no significant areas of corrosion.

The same applied to the masonry/concrete piers,  although it was recommended work be done within 24 months to fill cracked mortar joints before freeze/thaw action made the damage worse. It’s now 21 months down the road from that recommendation. Has anything been done on that front?

There are so many unanswered questions on this project that it boggles the mind. Another example of due diligence a la Haldimand county.

Also read “Public Input left swinging on the gallows” by Chris Pickup

posted July 22/18