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What kind of bridge will $25 million get us?

By DJ Kelly May 22, 2009

When I first heard about Calgary’s two “designer” bridges I was skeptical but excited. If there is one thing ALL Calgarian’s agree on it’s that our city needs to be more lively and attractive. “Iconic” architecture is something we are seriously lacking currently.

One of these bridges is set to be placed just off the western tip of Prince’s Island Park connecting Sunnyside to the downtown near the helicopter pad. This bridge will be paid for by the City of Calgary. The second bridge – I believe to be paid for by the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation – links Bridgeland and the new Rivers district (East Village) while touching the western tip of St. George’s Island where the Zoo sits.

Here we are about six months after Spanish designer Santiago Calatrava’s name was first mentioned and all the hubbub in the news about the cost being double what it would take to build a regular bridge. Much of the rhetoric still is about the cost. I’m over that. What’s done is done. And the price isn’t as outrageous as it was made out to be. (I’d like to see someone try to build a bridge over the Bow River for $2 million!)

Instead I find my mind wandering to what kind of an “iconic” bridge we’re going to get.

The City has seen the initial drawings for the first bridge and they say they will release them to the public before the end of May. (I haven’t seen them as of this writing.)

But this is the first I’m hearing about the limitations being imposed on the bridge and I’m a little worried the bridge might not be as ostentatious as we had hoped for $25 million. First off, because of the helicopter pad the height of the bridge is limited. “Don’t expect towers and cables,” Mac Logan, the he city’s director of transportation infrastructure says in this Calgary Herald article from May 4. (BTW, I’m not sure how a pedestrian bridge is “transportation infrastructure, but I digress.)

Cables and towers are Calatrava’s trademark though.

So what will we get? Perhaps something closer to the bridge pictured below that Calatrava designed to span Venice’s Grand Canal. A bridge that has been hit with major criticism because critics charge it doesn’t fit in with Venice’s existing architecture (something Calgary doesn’t have to worry about) and four times over budget (something Calgarian’s would certainly NOT allow given all the latest shenanigans at City Hall in the past couple of years). All this despite Calatrava himself calling the crossing “my most beautiful bridge.”


Below are some of the kinds of bridges Calatrava designed I imagine city aldermen were hoping they might get when they approved the $25 million budget. Sorry, not happening.


Personally I’ve got my fingers crossed it will be an amazing piece of architecture none-the-less. Something so amazing the critics have no choice but to swallow their pride and be admit it will be an attraction for locals and tourists for decades to come. But right now, looking at the reality of it all, I’m not convinced yet.

  • damclean

    Yeah, I agree that $25 million is a lot of money if we’re talking about my wallet, but people complain without having any idea how much money it actually costs to build a bridge. So much of Calgary’s visual landscape is tired old symbols. Would they still be complaining if they were told it was going to cost $2.5 billion to build the Saddledome? Probably, but would they even have any reference to gauge that cost? In 15 years time will they be proud of these new bridges as enduring symbol of our city,

  • damclean

    Yeah, I agree that $25 million is a lot of money if we’re talking about my wallet, but people complain without having any idea how much money it actually costs to build a bridge.

    So much of Calgary’s visual landscape is tired old symbols. Would they still be complaining if they were told it was going to cost $2.5 billion to build the Saddledome? Probably, but would they even have any reference to gauge that cost? In 15 years time will they be proud of these new bridges as enduring symbol of our city,

  • Sean Carter

    the bridges are considered “transportation infrastructure” for the simple reason that they will also include cycle paths and links to the regional pathway network (bike commuting). hopefully the designer and city planners will have some way of separating the peds from the bikes…time will tell.i found the negative comments on this project very interesting. my guess is if the city announced $25mil for yet another vehicle interchange it would not have even made the news at all.fingers crossed that the designs look great!

  • Sean Carter

    the bridges are considered “transportation infrastructure” for the simple reason that they will also include cycle paths and links to the regional pathway network (bike commuting). hopefully the designer and city planners will have some way of separating the peds from the bikes…time will tell.

    i found the negative comments on this project very interesting. my guess is if the city announced $25mil for yet another vehicle interchange it would not have even made the news at all.

    fingers crossed that the designs look great!

  • alpalmer

    $25million isn’t really all that much for a bridge (or two bridges? whatever.) I hope that whatever his limitations, the designer gives us an awesome bridge that is indeed iconic. One can only hope. I think that the majority of the people whinging on about the cost are people that have no idea how much major construction costs. And as sean said, $25million for a new interchange would hardly make the news.

    For all that Calgary likes to position itself as a cosmopolitan city, it sure isn’t looking like one just yet.

  • alpalmer

    $25million isn't really all that much for a bridge (or two bridges? whatever.) I hope that whatever his limitations, the designer gives us an awesome bridge that is indeed iconic. One can only hope. I think that the majority of the people whinging on about the cost are people that have no idea how much major construction costs. And as sean said, $25million for a new interchange would hardly make the news.

    For all that Calgary likes to position itself as a cosmopolitan city, it sure isn't looking like one just yet.

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