Liberals ‘stonewalling’ Nipigon bridge reportJuly 23, 2016
Sat Jul 23 2016
Byline: Rob Ferguson Toronto Star
The Liberal government is “stonewalling” the release of two reports on what caused the important Nipigon River bridge to heave dangerously in a bone-chilling January cold snap, opposition parties charged Friday.
Just weeks after it opened on an isolated stretch of the busy Trans Canada Highway east of Thunder Bay, the bridge’s steel decking popped up 60 centimetres and forced a daylong closure for emergency repairs.
That prompted Nipigon Mayor Richard Harvey to state “Canada has been cut in half.”
Large trucks, which carry about $100 million worth of goods daily on that stretch of road, had to endure long detours for several weeks until more substantial fixes could be made to the $106-million cable-stayed structure by late February.
“People deserve an explanation,” Progressive Conservative MPP Michael Harris, his party’s transportation critic, told a news conference, echoing calls from his New Democrat counterpart Wayne Gates.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s truckers or families on vacation, drivers need to have confidence in this government that roads and bridges are safe,” Gates (Niagara Falls) told the Star.
“The government has an obligation to release the reports immediately.”
Delays could mean any further action required on the bridge could stretch into next winter, Gates warned.
Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca acknowledged the government has received “final reports” on testing of bolts used to hold the bridge in place but maintained they are “only one part of the comprehensive investigation that is ongoing.”
Bridge engineers from the ministry are continuing to determine what happened to heave the bridge and Associated Engineering (Ont.) Ltd., an independent consultant with expertise in cable-stayed bridges, is conducting its own analysis, Del Duca added in a statement.
“From my perspective, releasing limited information in piecemeal fashion prior to having all the facts does not help us get to the root cause of the bridge failure,” the minister said.
“When the entire investigation is completed, which we expect will be in the fall, expert findings and details from the engineers will be made public.”
Gates said the fact that the investigation continues in the wake of bolt tests by scientists at two labs means “it’s probably more complicated than the bolts.”
Harris (Kitchener-Conestoga) said the delay in releasing any information makes him wonder what the government “may be trying to hide … I think it’s more about protecting their own hides.”
He raised the possibility of design flaws with the bridge – the first cable-stayed bridge in the province – or construction errors. “It’s clear there was a lack of oversight.”
Cable-stayed bridges are supported by lines of cables stretching from one or more towers, and are found elsewhere around the world, including cold climates in Russia and Alaska.