Residents of Placentia were recently asked for their opinions and suggestions on how best to deal with the growing problem in this community, the state of disrepair of the Sir Ambrose Shea lift bridge and how to adapt to the repairs that need to be done to it. How to adapt, because as the only link between the two sides of the town, if the bridge is closed, it means an immediate and disabling gap in the community.
At a public meeting with government members, residents were quickly reined in if they got off topic. It was a time to move forward, as the ministers said, not look back and lay blame. ‘What’s the point in that?’ it was queried. ‘We need to seek solutions, not look back and assign blame.’
That’s fair enough. At that point, government and the town had an immediate problem that needed to be dealt with and that is not the time to get caught up in the ‘blame game.’
But, this is not a surprise issue for anyone, and was only a matter of time for a serious problem such as this to arise. This bridge is 51 years old and government tells is its lifespan was 45 years. The situation has already gone well past the point of simply discussing it.
And again, to be fair, government has been working on plans for a replacement bridge, plans that quickly went awry when their tendering process netted only one bid that was nearly double government’s projected costs.
Therein lies one of the problems.
Government’s projected costs were at around $24 million, a number that sounds reasonable to the layperson’s ears.
Let’s not forget that plenty of money has already been spent on plans, reports, reviews, assessments, etc. How many actual dollars have already been spent? A good question to ask, no doubt.
When government got what they believe is their severely overpriced bid, we later discover the tenders were only made available to Atlantic Canadian companies, which is a good idea on the surface. Let’s keep it local, right? But, when that approach didn’t work, why didn’t government immediately issue another tender when they weren’t happy with the one received, one that was open to the rest of Canada, or North America even. Surely, building bridges is not an Atlantic Canadian specialty.
That didn’t happen. Instead, government looked at their plans again and talked about changing the bridge plans, shaving a few higher cost items from the bridge, for example, it’s attractiveness.
In the meantime, as we all know now, the bridge had a weight restriction put in place, one that is very much disrupting people and businesses in Placentia, not to mention the fear some people expressed at the state of the bridge, it being so old. Residents were told that the access road off Southeast Road would be the alternative for large trucks that couldn’t cross the bridge. Now that alternate route is muddied and rutted, almost impassable by large trucks which continue to make that road worse and worse with each day.
Government now has to spend money to repair the bridge, and repair the road, and this is all before replacing the bridge can even be looked at again.
A few more questions.
Minister Hedderson said the alternate route would cost approximately $10 million to pave and government will not be doing that. Fair enough, but if paving an 8-10 kilometre road, even if it is a dirt road, costs that much, isn’t it reasonable that building a new bridge would cost more than $24 million? I’m no expert, but I imagine we need some experts to do this work, and that is not something that will ever come cheap, and nor should it.
Plus, government managed to find the money to pave the roads all around Long Harbour to make way for new industry in the area. That is wonderful, and no one is really complaining about that, but it does make one question priorities. Why is it fine to spend millions on enabling business, but not fine to spend on ensuring an iconic and essential piece of infrastructure like this bridge is maintained or rebuilt?
Indeed, now would be the best time in our history to get this bridge done quickly and well. Our province is flush with surplus after surplus, and there is more oil money coming in that we have ever seen. Sometimes, government needs to invest in the province and not just put excess funds towards bringing down the debt. Yes, that needs to happen, but not before the great needs of the people of the province.
Government needs to publicly commit to replacing the bridge, with no ifs, ands or buts. The money needs to be found and work needs to begin without delay.
Even with no delay, it will be three to four years before residents see a safe new bridge. If there are other issues that arise, and there invariably will be with a project of this magnitude, how long will it actually be before people drive across a new bridge? Five years? Six, seven? Eight or nine?
This is unacceptable to the people who must live here and use the bridge on a daily basis.
Government needs to hunker down, accept responsibility for this situation, and do something to ensure we don’t have to suffer like this again in the future. MHAs represent us, don’t forget, and use our money to invest in these kinds of projects.
It is time to ‘move forward’, and that means now!
Elizabeth MacDonald, Editor, The Charter