“We have a situation where we need the full cooperation of everybody,” Transportation and Works Minister Tom Hedderson told reporters after a meeting Tuesday evening, Feb. 28, with the Placentia Town Council.
Hedderson and Placentia-St. Mary’s MHA Felix Collins were in Placentia to discuss the government’s plans to repair the Placentia lift bridge after a load restriction was placed on the aging structure, restricting vehicles over 13,000 kilograms from using it.
“The work that needs to be done on that bridge will get done. In the meantime, we are putting in a load restriction at 13,000 tonnes and we are asking everyone to cooperate,” he said.
He said when these repairs are completed, in three to four months time, the restrictions will likely be lifted.
Minister Collins said he was not surprised by the emotion of the protesters outside the municipal building.
“No, I am not surprised. The bridge is the glue that holds the community together,” said Collins. “The Placentia area is built around the bridge. The bridge is an integral part of it. It is significant for the social and economic development of the area.”
He said there would be some short term pain over the next few months but the silver lining is that the bridge would be repaired to capacity in the coming months and that would allow the bridge to remain in operation for at least four years while a new bridge gets constructed.
“From the get-go, citizens understand that this bridge can’t be built overnight,” said Minister Hedderson, “and obviously from the amount of the last tender that went out, this has a significant dollar value... Right now we are going back over what we already put forth, re-scoping it, and getting it ready to go out for re-tender and of course we are very hopeful that competitive bids will come in and we can get on with it. But in the meantime our main concern in all of this is not about inconvenience, but it is about public safety. We found this morning that we had to be on site because one of our main concerns was getting those school busses across the bridge in a safe manner.”
He said school busses are one tonne over the weight limit so only one at a time can travel over the bridge.
“We are counting on our truckers to abide by that restriction. They know how much they got aboard the trucks and if anybody is trying to sneak across that bridge, let me tell you, there is eyes all around, and if they are reported, and if we find out they are not abiding, they are going to suffer the consequences of the law.”
He said after the bridge is repaired things will get back to normal.
Hedderson said government was not happy with the $43-million dollar bid for the previous bridge design, so they are returning to the drawing table in the hopes of dropping the price, but he wouldn’t say what they are willing to pay.
He said what would be sacrificed in the bridge design is “prettiness” or the aesthetics of the bridge.
“When we looked at the design, we realized there were things there that we could get back to basics on. The big difference is we are looking at a significant tower that we would have to raise up. We believe that if we put that up in sections, the lift would not be as great... a barge in that channel with tremendous tides would be a great challenge, so a bridge would have to be built to build the bridge. What we are hoping is rescoping it and looking at sections going up so we won’t need the same lift capacity,” said Minister Hedderson.
He also said the tendering process would be open and transparent, and they are hoping for a better result.
Minister Hedderson explained he felt very strongly about speaking personally to residents of Placentia and that was why he would be attending the public meeting at the Star of the Sea Hall on March 1.
For his part, Mayor Bill Hogan says he’s not pleased about the situation but resigned to what has to happen.
“We are not too happy with the process of the system that would delay this longer than we would wish,” said Mayor Hogan. “But we are satisfied with the information we got that the job is going to be done. And we got a great deal more information about the rehab work that got to be done and the existing damage and protocol that is going to take place to get it fixed. We are pretty well happy with that.”
He’s not pleased that the new bridge will be delayed yet again.
“We think that they have the expertise and the knowledge and everything to proceed without going through all they say they are going to, but they would probably have to put up with the press and the Treasury Board and all the do-gooders and self-righteous crowd out there instead of letting them do their work,” he said.
He said he’s been told a new bridge will take four years to complete.
“They are going to change it so it is more economical and that’s where they are heading with it. They could not say how much will go towards it but I am confident it will get done.”
He said based on the information he’s been given, he is confident that the bridge will hold steady for the four years while waiting for the new bridge to be constructed.
“I’m not thrilled it’s going to be four years, but... shit happens,” said Mayor Hogan. “The only alternative I see is changing the process. If that could be done, we could perhaps shave a year off this timeline. But it is a difficult thing to do. Now it will be 2016 before we get the new bridge.”
Mayor Hogan noted they’ve gotten a commitment from government to grade the gravel road through to Southeast and that special attention would be given to that road. He’s also hoping for new pavement for Southeast Placentia.