Huge bridge’s arrival on barge marks step forward for Port Lands

Deep in the drudgery of pandemic endurance, a rare beacon of hope.

There against the backdrop of an unusually sunny November sky and the rising

condominiums along Lakeshore Blvd., came a shining red-and-white signal that Toronto’s future is yet bright.

Perched atop a massive barge, the Cherry Street North transit bridge floated into Toronto’s harbour Saturday morning like a bird’s wing over water, its domed peak beckoning upwards.

The first of four bridges to link the city’s revitalized Port Lands to the mainland, the 57-metre long, 340-metric-tonne structure slid into Keating Channel after a weeklong journey from a harbour in Dartmouth, N.S., up the St. Lawrence River and through Montreal. Its arrival was greeted by dignitaries from three levels of government, as well as a small crowd gathered on what will soon be the old Cherry St.

“Just as we’ve seen in cities like Sydney, Australia, and Chicago, the Cherry St. bridge is sure to become an iconic landmark of the city’s skyline,” George Zegarac, CEO of Waterfront Toronto, told assembled media standing on what will soon become the middle of the new Cherry St.

Waterfront Toronto is the agency overseeing the $1.25-billion Port Lands Flood Protection Project that will see the transformation of the area from industrial wasteland to a vibrant, green downtown neighbourhood.

The installation of the Cherry Street North bridge and the others still to come over the next two years will advance the goal of making Toronto’s waterfront “one of the best in the world,” said Zegarac, creating a “future with places to live and work with new parks and access to Lake Ontario where you can dip your toes in the water and take a kayak for a spin.”

The revitalization of the Port Lands, one of the largest non-transit infrastructure projects currently underway in North America, will see the creation of Villiers Island once the mouth of the Don River is naturalized in the form of a kilometre-long river valley. The completed neighbourhood will feature commercial and residential real estate, including about 20 per cent affordable rental housing and five per cent affordable ownership, parklands, and walking and biking trails.

The four steel bridges connecting the island to the mainland are manufactured by Cherubini Bridges and Structures, the Dartmouth-based company known for the MacDonald Bridge update in Halifax and the Vimy Memorial Bridge in Ottawa, among other projects. The Cherry Street North transit bridge will be the east side of the bridge and will be only for transit and pedestrians, while the other half of the bridge, to be delivered by the end of next year, will carry road traffic.

The other two bridges will be much larger; one will span the new river valley on Cherry Street South and the other will take traffic on Commissioners Street over the Don on the east side of the development.

“This project was hatched long before pandemic became a word that we were used to using, and it was a great example again of three governments coming together to decide they would undertake together one of the largest waterfront revitalization projects in the world,” Mayor John Tory said as the bridge floated behind him.

The city, province and federal government each contributed $417 million to the project. Representing the different levels were Toronto-Danforth MP Julie Dabrusin; Toronto Centre MP-elect Marci Ien; Etobicoke-Lakeshore MPP Christine Hogarth; Coun. Paula Fletcher (Toronto-Danforth) and Coun. Joe Cressy (Spadina-Fort York).

The mayor added that while people are fatigued and frustrated with COVID-19, Toronto remains a city with “great bones” — fundamentals that make the city great, including smart people, a commitment to immigration and respect for human rights and each other.

“This is an important piece of city building. We don’t often get to see such an exciting moment for our city,” said Dabrusin, adding that the new neighbourhood is an important flood-fighting project that will protect about 800 homes in her community.

“It’s been a difficult time. It’s nice to have a story like this to share and to be able to talk on a beautiful day about all that we can achieve for our city when we all work together.”

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