When Duckworth Street appeared on a Barrie map in 1843, it was a rough pioneer road for pack horses and wagons.
Now, almost 180 years later, horseless carriages are still getting a bumpy ride on its stretches of uneven and cracked pavement.
Motorists who regularly use the road — and area residents — may have been pleased to hear almost five years ago that Duckworth was going to get a makeover.
But the redo is still far from being a pretty face, for now.
Work began in September 2018 on the extensive, two-phase project that will eventually reconstruct Duckworth Street from Bell Farm Road to St. Vincent Street. The entire project comes with an estimated $10-million price tag.
Phase 1 was completed in the fall of 2019 and included a slew of construction projects — probably very familiar to local residents and motorists in the form of traffic disruptions and noise — including curb and gutter replacements, new storm sewers, replacement sanitary sewer and laterals (that’s the pipe that takes the nasty stuff out to the street), street-light and traffic-signal upgrades, minor intersection improvements, and a stretch of new pavement from Melrose Avenue to St. Vincent Street.
Next up is Phase 2.
“Next year, we will be getting ready to finish the rebuilding of Duckworth,” Ward 1 Coun. Clare Riepma tells BarrieToday. “We will be relocating utilities in 2022 from Melrose to Grove (Street). In 2023, Duckworth will be rebuilt from Melrose to Bell Farm Road. The work involves new sewers and watermain, curbs and gutters, streetlights, and pavement.
“The top course of asphalt will also be placed from St. Vincent to Bell Farm," he says.
While the final result sounds great, it also seems like it would be nice to have it happening a little sooner than later for folks dodging the occasional pothole.
But another nearby busy artery that is getting a reboot may be at least partly responsible, Riepma says.
“We are completely rebuilding Bell Farm Road with new sewers, asphalt and sidewalks. While this is happening, traffic is diverted to Duckworth and we really don’t want two roads under construction in the same area at the same time,” he says.
Coming to task with aging underground infrastructure, and other infrastructure improvements, is necessary, he says in regards to Duckworth reconstruction.
“Since Ward 1 is one of the older parts of the city, our roads and the pipes under them are also the oldest and many of them have reached the end of their useful life,” Riepma says. “And rough roads are one of the most common complaints that I hear about.
“We all look forward to the time when the work is complete.”
Probably no one more so than the ‘Roads Queen’ — Bonnie Ainsworth.
The former city councillor — 14 years during two different stints — and Ward 1 resident has long championed roadwork in the east end, including Duckworth Street.
“We made our home here 26 years ago and even then I noticed the poor condition of most local roads in the (east-end) area and remember complaining to city hall,” she tells BarrieToday. “Duckworth Street brings residents and visitors off the highway into the heart of our city and has been an embarrassment for years.
“I actually ran for my seat on council in 1998 because I felt growth was devouring an unfair amount of the city’s annual budget and older wards — with their crumbling infrastructures — were being left behind.”
That royal nickname of Ainsworth’s was apt.
“Every single day of the 14 years I was on council I fought for road restoration, rehabilitation and even replacement in old Barrie,” she says. “I remember tongue-in-cheek describing Duckworth Street as probably being worse than most roads in Afghanistan.
“I once seriously suggested that the pavement on sections of the road be removed and changed to gravel until road replacement work could begin. That’s how bad it was in some areas before they were replaced in Phase 1.”
Ainsworth was so determined to have the road fixed that she ended up having a piece of it in her home.
During her last council meeting at city hall in November 2018, when her four-year term came to an end (she chose not to run again), Ainsworth was presented with an encased chunk of the old Duckworth Street by Mayor Jeff Lehman, who dubbed her “a legendary champion of fixing up roads.”
“Work on this road has been left for too long,” Ainsworth says. “But road replacement is an extremely expensive line in the budget, often causing a project to be deferred or sectioned and consequently taking longer. Duckworth is a case in point.”