Morris Island Bridge: rideable or no?

I did my sort-of-semi-traditional fall epic ride this weekend and I decided to take the Morris Island Bridge to get to the leaf viewing nirvana that is West Québec. It’s a bit of a quandary, though. Is it permitted?

Possibly more importantly there’s the question of whether or not it’s desirable. By bike, it’s about 80km out of town. And apart from the bridge’s 487 metre span, there’s 4km either side of it that is along a railway bed. It’s flat but the surface is very loose, kiwi-sized gravel which is quite jarring on your average gravel bike. There’s definitely faster, more comfortable ways to get to the Eardley Escarpment.

There are two big concrete blocks at either end of the span and signs everywhere indicating it’s private property and that users must have written permission from the owner. Another sign explicitly prohibits ATVs.

The bridge was decommissioned in 2014, when plans to turn it into a multi-use (bike, pedestrian etc) bridge fell through. But it re-opened as a snowmobile-only bridge in March 2021 after local snowmobile clubs secured more than $300,000 of federal and provincial government money and used more than $133,000 of their own to build the superstructure that’s there.

So can you ride it? Yes. There’s no one around. It’s easy for someone on foot or on a bicycle to circumvent the blocks. The rail bed is jarring and you won’t break any speed records but it’s do-able on a gravel or mountain bike.

Should you ride it? Hells yes. It’s gorgeous territory. In fall the views of the leaves on the riverbanks are fabulous. It’s on a right of way that belonged to you, dear citizen and part owner of the CNR, until it was gifted to a special interest group. The structure itself was built mostly with your money in a classic Stephen Harper-era bid to buy votes with boutique tax credits and spending programs.

I’m not an ATV-er and I know nothing about them. I have no idea why snowmobilers wouldn’t want them on the bridge. Insurance and wear and tear would be my guesses. But the latter at least is not a factor for cycling. And insurance… well, with the blocks and the signs, they’ve done their work to discourage use. Anyone who defies the admonitions against use and hurts themselves is on their own.

I saw one other rider when I was out there. The rider was on a mountain bike, and looked like they were just out for spin or to visit someone on the other side of the river. It’s the kind of use that should be encouraged and supported. The snowmobilers did the work to get the bridge built. This is great. I think if others — whether the municipalities or bike clubs or whoever — could be convinced to also contribute to that by, say, putting packed stone dust down over the baby-head gravel, that would be awesome. Because it should be for everyone.

However given how remote it is, I’m not going to hold my breath.