POLITICS

Repairs for 75 bridges in Newfoundland and Labrador miss deadlines

11/02/2014 11:00 EST | Updated 01/02/2015 05:59 EST
Nearly two thirds of the bridges in Newfoundland and Labrador that are listed by the provincial government as being in poor condition haven't been fixed in the time frame recommended by inspectors, prompting concerns from municipal officials.

A database provided to The Canadian Press and updated by the province in September showed 75 out of the 115 bridges weren't repaired in the time inspectors said they were supposed to be.

That includes 21 bridges that for more than a year were categorized as needing immediate repairs. Another 42 bridges listed as needing repairs within one year weren't upgraded within the recommended time frame, while 12 bridges that inspectors said needed repairs within three years did not get fixed in that time.

Patrick Hearn, the manager of public works in the community of Harbour Grace, said the condition of two bridges in the town, including one on a waterfront road, are cause for concern and he feels the province should have acted by now.

"If that bridge is cut off, you'd cut off different areas of the town," he said.

"It (the repairs) needs to happen soon."

In the community of Harbour Main, the Terry's Brook bridge has been listed in need of immediate replacement since a February 2011 inspection.

"This bridge takes an awful lot of traffic. ... It's on a main thoroughfare," said Mayor Elizabeth Parsley. "If it needs to be repaired it should be done. I find with a lot of things the buck gets passed around."

Transportation Minister David Brazil said the database shows work is needed but adds the bridges are safe to drive on and any bridge that isn't safe is immediately closed.

He said bridges on the lists are monitored carefully.

"Obviously, if we've assessed them they weren't prioritized as being a safety hazard," he said.

Brazil said the province has spent $103 million over the last three fiscal years on bridges, about $10 million of which is being spent this year around the province.

"There's no doubt we have some challenges around our financial ability to meet in a timely fashion (repairs for) all of the bridges," he said.

"But ... we make sure the bridges used as part of our transport links are safe."

The government database of bridges was originally obtained by the School of Journalism at the University of King's College through access-to-information legislation and updated by the Department of Transportation and Works.

The bridges listed in poor condition have a wide variety of problems, ranging from potholes to crumbling rails to deteriorating supporting walls.

In the case of the Harbour Grace bridge at Riverhead on Route 70, the database said repairs are needed to the bridge deck and the corners of abutments, which provide support for the bridge.

The nearby Bannerman Brook bridge's wing walls, which are retaining walls next to the abutments, have "severe section loss affecting strength and stability," the government database said.

Gary Gosse, an assistant deputy minister in the Transportation Department, said there are no structural issues of concern with both bridges.

If the embankment behind the retaining walls on the Bannerman Brook bridge deteriorates further, it's not a problem to fix, Gosse said.

"It's easily repaired if it becomes an issue," he said.

Auditor general Terry Paddon raised red flags about the state of bridges in his annual report released in January. It found that of the 234 planned bridge projects outlined in a 2004-11 plan, only 58 per cent of them were completed.

Paddon said in an interview that if a bridge is listed as needing repairs immediately or within a year and it hasn't been fixed, it raises questions.

"If you have a system that's robust and you've categorized something as needing immediate repair, one would think that you should take that and put it at the top of your list," he said. His office expects to review the response to its audit within a few months, he added.

Liberal transportation critic Tom Osborne said the province should have been able to catch up on repairs during a decade when the government was receiving billions in additional oil revenues.

"It is a huge concern," he said. "We've got a government that has governed during the period of the greatest fiscal wealth this province has ever experienced and has neglected the bridges in the province."

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