A large crane swings Blackfriars Bridge back onto its abutments above the Thames River, August 15, 2018. Photo courtesy of the City of London.A large crane swings Blackfriars Bridge back onto its abutments above the Thames River, August 15, 2018. Photo courtesy of the City of London.

Blackfriars Bridge reopens

There is a new, old way into downtown London as Blackfriars Bridge opened once again to people, cyclists, and vehicles on Saturday.

Led by a horse-drawn carriage, a parade of Londoners became the first to cross the historic structure following 13 months of rehabilitation work.

"It's been a really rewarding project for all involved," said Doug MacRae, the city’s transportation, planning and design manager. "This bridge is really a gem on a nationwide scale."

The $8-million project saw the bridge cut in two and removed from its perch above the Thames River last fall. It was then taken off site where city-hired contractors spent the winter months cleaning, labelling, and inspecting sections of the disassembled structure. They dedicated hours to the gruelling work of removing old rivets and bolts and inserting new ones before sandblasting was completed.

The 143-year-old bridge was brought back to the west bank of the Thames River for reassembly in June and its distinctive bowstring arch trusses were lifted back onto its abutments by an 800-tonne crane in August. Crews then spent the past few months reattaching the bridge's main components before it was deemed ready for public use.

Saturday's grand re-opening of the iconic bridge included remarks from politicians including Mayor-Elect Ed Holder, London North Centre MP Peter Fragiskatos, and Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek.

Pedestrians and cyclists can now use the bridge for two way travel, while eastbound vehicles can use it as a one-way gateway into the downtown.

"I could see the pleasure from the community seeing the bridge back where it belongs," said MacRae. "The community is excited to see it reopened and make the connection back to the downtown."

Dubbed one of the oldest and rarest bridges in Canada, Blackfriars Bridge was built in 1875. Since then the wrought iron bowstring arch-truss bridge has spanned the north branch of the Thames River, connecting Ridout St. to Blackfriars St. It was designated as a Heritage Structure in April 1992 and appears on both the Ontario Heritage Bridge list and the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

It was closed to vehicle traffic in September 2013 due to excessive deterioration.

"It's actually the third bridge at that location. The previous two were washed out when the river flooded," noted MacRae. "This one was designed and built with longevity in mind and we are still enjoying it today. It took a very thoughtful approach to preserve the heritage but also to bring it up to current safety standards. We are now looking at a bridge that will be able to serve Londoners for another 75 years."

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