We’re devoting a handful of posts to the roads and bridges TransLink is responsible for in the region. For the basics on TransLink’s roads and bridges, check out the Managing major roads and bridges in Metro Vancouver post from our TransLink 101 series. Check out the roads and bridges series so far.
For this installment of our roads and bridges series, we look at one of TransLink’s oldest assets, Westham Island.
Officially opened on March 29, 1910, Westham Island is the oldest of the five bridges TransLink owns and operates. Operated by TransLink since 1999, The over 100-year-old bridge is also the narrowest TransLink bridge and one of few remaining bridges containing wood components in Metro Vancouver. Located over Canoe Pass, which is in the Fraser River Estuary, the structure connects Westham Island with Ladner and the Municipality of Delta.
The bridge is comprised of thirty timber stringer approach spans, a Callender-Hamilton swing-span steel truss, a steel C-truss, and a timber Howe truss, with partial single-lane operation. The swing span can swing 90 degrees to allow boats to pass.
I sat down with Bob Moore, Bridge Operations Manager for TransLink, and asked him a few questions about the historic bridge.
Tell me about the bridge.
Bob: The bridge is part steel, part timber. Part of the bridge is a steal truss, like you find in the Pattullo Bridge. Another part is a timbre truss, which is highly unusual these days but typical of similar bridges built in the early part of the last century. The remainder of the bridge consists of heavy timber stringers. It’s a swing span bridge, which is also unusual.
How do swing span bridges work?
Well, it sits on bearings. When ships want to pass through the channel, they radio ahead to our person in the operating booth for the bridge, and they go out onto the deck and press the button to make the bridge swing open. At this time of the year, the operating booth is fully manned. As we get into the winter, there are certain hours of operation.
What types of boats usually pass by the bridge?
It’s mainly fishing boats and some pleasure boats as well. I’ve actually seen a houseboat go through there. There is a houseboat community right near the bridge. On average, the bridge is opened roughly seven or eight times a day. It’s a vital link to the island. There are many farms on the island, and trucks need the bridge to get their goods on and off. Mind you, there is a load limit to the bridge of 50 tons, which means you can’t bring a semi-truck over it.
How is the bridge maintained?
We have a maintenance contractor who is out there weekly making any repairs that are needed. Because of these heavy trucks and the fact that the deck is wooden there is some regular maintenance needed. That replacement includes fixing and replacing parts of the deck, the rubbing rails and curbs on the side, etc.
How long can a bridge like the Westham last?
Well, it’s a swing span bridge, so there are moving parts that can rust or wear out. However, if it was designed and maintained well from new, it could last almost indefinitely (with timely maintenance and rehabilitation). The deck on the bridge can feel a little loose because it’s made of timber which dries up during the summer. The workers will then go in and tighten the deck up on a regular basis.
Tell me about the future of the island.
About six months ago, we commissioned a report to look at the cost of three different scenarios: (1) to keep maintaining the bridge for the next ten years, (2) to keep maintaining it for the next thirty years, and (3) to look at replacing the bridge entirely. We have that report now, and we’re reviewing it to see what we’ll do with it.
Thanks for the time Bob!
If you haven’t visit the bridge yet, it’s worth a trip. The unique look of the bridge has attracted camera crews of TV, films and commercials over the years. That includes new TV series, Bates Motel, has been shooting on the bridge recently.
Have you ever gone over the bridge? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Share you Westham Island story in the comments section below.