Major Downtown North Core Construction Project to Continue This Summer

Story by Matt Prokopchuk, Photo by Sidney Ulakovic

One of Thunder Bay’s major downtown north core thoroughfares will be dug up this year, as the city continues with a two-year, $12 million project that promises to not only bring layers of underground infrastructure up to modern standards this year, but will also redesign and reconstruct a popular section of Red River Road.

The city held an open house at Red Lion Smokehouse on Thursday afternoon designed to answer questions and solicit feedback from businesses, other stakeholders, and the public on the three-phase work plan slated to run from mid-April through October. The first stage will involve the closure and reconstruction of Red River Road from its intersection at Cumberland Street up to St. Paul Street; stage two will expand the construction zone up to what the city is calling “Mall Street”—the crosswalk and walkway from Red River Road through to Park Avenue—and stage three will see the reopening of Red River from Cumberland to St. Paul and completion of work up to Court Street.

“The original infrastructure [like water and sewer lines] is 100 years old, it’s from the early 1900s—1920s and 30s,” says Brian Newman, a project engineer with the City of Thunder Bay. “When we dig up Red River Road, you’ll find all the old street car rails, so we’re going to have a lot of that poking out of the ground, and we’re actually going to try to incorporate that into some of the public art that’s coming up.” The city says that infrastructure is at the end of its lifespan and needs to be replaced. Aside from the underground work, city officials say the work will also modernize the appearance and accessibility of Red River Road; this year’s work on that street follows similar efforts last year along Court Street, and plans to include resurfacing the roadways, installing new sidewalks (effectively turning the route into a “curbless street,” according to Newman), putting in new streetlights and traffic signals, and adding public spaces.

Like their counterparts on Court Street last year, businesses along the affected areas of Red River Road will be impacted in terms of access. Kara Pratt, the executive director of the Waterfront District BIA, which represents business interests in the downtown north core, says shops and restaurants will remain open and she’s not only encouraging the public to continue to support them, but also for the businesses themselves to “continue to market.”

“This isn’t a time to hide in your business, you have to get out there and you have to market and say that you are open,” she says. “You are the best people to reach your own clientele.”  And while this summer will be disruptive, Pratt stresses that the work will continue to pay dividends—not only with the replacement of century-old essential infrastructure, but also by beautifying the area and focusing on pedestrian accessibility. “There’s excitement, there’s looking towards the future, and all the positive that comes from this,” she says. “There are concerns in terms of deliveries and stuff like that, but we’re here to help mitigate those concerns.”

Newman says the project remains on budget and hopes to use lessons learned last year during the Court Street reconstruction phase. “Underground is always a surprise,” he says of some of the unforeseen issues crews ran into last year. “You run into rock, you run into piping that’s not documented—just a whole plethora of things that could happen.” Traffic light installation and some decorative work along Court Street is also slated to be completed this year—similarly, Newman says final touches on Red River may have to be completed early in the 2025 season, depending on how work progresses this year.

“It’s just going to look really decorative when it’s all done,” he says. “Red River Road’s going to be a showpiece, I think.”