When town officials gathered yesterday to kick up a little dirt by the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Recreation Centre, it signaled the beginning of the end of two decades of discussion and at times heated legal confrontations over exactly how to bridge the gap between north and south Cochrane.

The bridge is currently in the design-assist stage and within the next few weeks, 100 per cent of the design is expected to be completed. Pending final environmental approvals, the town anticipates getting into the river by mid-August to establish the single foundation middle peer.

The $54 million project, including connecting roadways, will be the town's largest infrastructure project to date and will provide an important second crossing of the Bow River.

Mayor Jeff Genung was on council's bridge committee back at the turn of the century, well before the massive residential developments that now exists and even the completion of the Bow Valley High School. 

"The word I wrote down here is "finally... FINALLY," said Mayor Jeff Genung in his brief presentation.

Genung was on council's bridge committee when he was first elected in 2001 and recalls it was a contentious issue then, particularly its alignment, At time, he thought the bridge would replace an existing crossing at the south end of River Ave., but the engineers insisted the location should be further east by the recreation centre.

"Well, some 16 years later here we are and it's exciting to be here," said Genung.

Genung has labeled it the "Freedom Bridge" because of what it means to the community.

"I've been calling it the freedom bridge--and I know that won't win the naming contest--because it's freeing up that side of the river to able to flow freely to this side and vise versa. I just think it's going to be an awesome connection to the rec centre, this side of town and hopefully alleviate some traffic on the 22 bridge and allow our citizens and residents to move freely about our community."

The majority of the funds for the project are coming from off-site levies and Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding, with little burden being directed placed on taxpayers, says Genung.

"Everybody's talking about growth and how it's affecting our community. I think this a positive that we can say the development industry is bringing and contributing with the growth by paying for a large portion of this bridge along with the province."

Banff-Cochrane MLA Cam Westhead called the bridge another milestone for Cochrane and used the opportunity to talk about how his government has insisted on maintaining MSI funding for Alberta municipalities, despite criticism from the Opposition.

"The Government of Alberta is doing it's part to alleviate traffic concerns by moving forward with the 1A and 22 intersection and I'm also proud that our government made the decision to maintain stable and predictable funding to municipalities."

Bearspaw First Nation Elder Irene BaptisteBearspaw First Nation Elder Irene Baptiste blessed the groundbreaking and Tsuut'ina First Nations spiritual leader Hal Eagletrail performed the blessing song, accompanied by daughter Cherokee.

Green Drop Rock Products, Tamani Communities and Philco Farm all had land impacted by the bridge alignment and the town was able to swap, as opposed to purchasing land from these three companies. There was some cash compensation to Green Drop Rock Products for costs associated with moving their weigh scales and wash plant in order to accommodate a traffic circle that's part of the southside road design.

It was the administration of former Mayor Ivan Brooker who finally sealed the bridge's route in a deal with landowners. The final touch to the long negotiation wrapped up last September, just before the municipal election.

The initial phase of work sees a new, two-lane James Walker Trail corridor and bridge connecting Griffin Road at the Arena Road roundabout to Riviera Way in Riversong.

It is being designed as a three-span bridge with a single pier in the river, and the second pier adjacent to the river. The outer spans will be about 51m (165 ft) each with the central span being about 58m (190 ft). The piers have been designed with two columns to improve visibility for users beneath the bridge and the overall bridge aesthetics.

In addition to the roadway itself, the construction also includes a new separated multi-use pathway and on-road bike lanes that cross the river on the bridge. The new pathway and bike lanes will be connected to the existing pathway and bike lane systems.

The extension of James Walker Trail from Riviera Way through to Highway 22 will be constructed later, depending on the timing of the South Bow development.

The town anticipates the bridge and the new James Walker Trail will be open to the public by end of 2020.

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