Hamilton’s eye-catching red-steel bridge a favourite for thieves
Oct 24, 2017
by Matthew Van Dongen 
Hamilton Spectator
Hamilton's eye-catching pedestrian bridge over the QEW — already beloved by engineers, cyclists and trail-walkers — is now a favourite for metal thieves.

Copper crooks have repeatedly plundered the wires used to light up the red-steel bridge installed across the 400-series highway and Red Hill Creek for $7.6 million in 2011. It happened so often the city swapped out the copper wire for cheaper aluminum — and even added stickers suggesting theft is no longer worthwhile.

But this year, the bridge brigands switched gears and started swiping two-metre-long sections of aluminum handrail — about 17 of them, so far.

The $8,500 worth of missing links are more than a taxpayer-funded inconvenience, said Mark Ritchie, who regularly cycles over the bridge that allows the Red Hill Valley Trail to connect to the Lake Ontario waterfront.

"I told the city (workers) it is kind of dangerous. If you lose your balance while you're riding over the bridge, you could end up impaling yourself," said Ritchie, who suggested the gaps turn the remaining safety rails into jutting metal.

Ritchie watched city workers start to install replacements for the initial 11 stolen pieces of handrail earlier this summer. But the rail-snatchers returned to pinch six more rails, which remain missing.

The hand rails are custom-ordered from Kitchener and the six missing pieces were snatched after the city ordered the first batch of replacements, said parks manager Kara Bunn.

More replacements are on the way and the city is now welding bolts underneath all new and existing rails to discourage further theft. One councillor is also exploring camera surveillance in the area.

The city constantly battles illegal scrap-scrounging, particularly wire theft from street and sports field lights. More unique thefts include buried landfill-monitoring cables and even copper roof tiles atop the Sam Lawrence Park pavilion.

Bunn said the handrailing theft is particularly worrisome because of the risk involved.
"They're removing pieces of a bridge above a very busy highway," she said. "You don't want anything falling down onto the people using that highway."

The city has reported the thefts to both Ontario Provincial Police, which patrols the QEW, and to Hamilton police, which has an officer specializing in metal theft in its break-and-enter, auto theft and robbery (BEAR) unit.

Const. Jerome Stewart said police are investigating several recent metal thefts, including those at the pedestrian bridge. But no one with the BEAR unit was available Monday to talk about the incidents or trends in metal theft.

The number of such thefts in a year tends to fluctuate alongside scrap metal prices.

Aluminum is worth much less than copper on the local scrap market — less than $1 a pound Monday compared to more than $3 — but the silvery white metal did hit a six-year high in value during the summer.

Bunn said the city has suffered other recent aluminum thefts, including sections of metal bleachers stolen from ball diamonds or soccer fields.

The QEW pedestrian bridge is becoming increasingly popular as a walking and cycling link between the waterfront and east Hamilton, with more than 51,000 users recorded so far this year and a daily average of 212.

The distinctively tilted, three-storey-high arch is hard to miss as you whiz by on the QEW and the design helped project head McCormick Rankin win a fistful of awards.

But the iconic bridge is effectively "hidden" at night from nonhighway traffic, said Bunn — which makes it an easy target for thieves.

Ward 4 Coun. Sam Merulla said he has received emails and social media complaints about the bridge and is asking the city to explore adding surveillance cameras.

He suggested the idea would dovetail with his earlier request to look at camera deterrence at illegal dumping hot spots, including along the Red Hill Creek. A report on that idea is still pending.

"We understand the problem and we're actively looking for solutions," Merulla said, calling metal theft in general a "constant frustration" for the city. "There seems to be no shortage of creatively criminal behaviour for us to try to deal with."


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