The provincial Tories are calling on the province to release the names of the 614 damaged provincial bridges identified as needing to be fixed or replaced in the auditor general’s spring report.
“This is about transparency and Nova Scotia taxpayers have a right to know which bridges in this province are in disrepair and in need of being replaced,” said Dartmouth East Tory MLA Tim Halman.
Halman’s comments came after the provincial auditor general Michael Pickup presented a debriefing of his May 28th audit report to the legislature’s public accounts committee at Province House on Wednesday. Halman, who’s also a member of the committee, peppered Pickup with questions on several of his findings. The most serious zeroed in on the department’s inability to properly track and prioritize bridge maintenance work in the province.
The report also shows the department has estimated it needs $2.1-billion over the next 10 years to get all of its bridges to a sustainable condition. According to Pickup’s calculations that would require $210-million a year and current spending is only about $45 million.
Halman said Pickup’s findings prove residents have good reason to be concerned about the state of provincial bridges and deserve to know exactly which ones fall below standard.
“To think that there is not a formal process in place to identify the bridges that need to be repaired and the time in which to do those repairs... this is the early 21st century. You would think that there would be a reliable system in place.”
Pickup said he understands the rationale behind making the list public but he was quick to point out that those bridges are not necessarily deemed unsafe. He also said the department has a grading system for bridges it classifies in poor condition.
“Poor doesn’t mean unsafe, it means potentially needing a major rehabilitation or repair,” said Pickup. “I can understand that people would want to know what bridges are on that list but that really is up to the department. It’s not incumbent on us to name them.”
NDP committee member Lisa Roberts said it’s a matter of public safety that the list is made public.
“Ultimately what we need to know and what we need to reassure Nova Scotians is that bridges are safe, that we’re doing the work that’s required in an adequate, timely fashion, so that we’re actually preventing real consequences for Nova Scotians,” said the Halifax Needham MLA.
The Department of Transportation would not commit to making the list of 600-plus damaged bridges public. But department spokeswoman Marla MacInnis insisted repairs to provincial bridges are done as required.
“A poor rating doesn’t mean a structure is unsafe,” she said. “The structure may have components that need repair or replacement. If a structure is deemed to be unsafe, it is immediately closed.”
The department follows the National Bridge Inspection rating system to categorize the condition of bridges in Nova Scotia and inspections are done each year, said MacInnis. The department prioritizes bridge work based on traffic volumes, type of bridges, classification of roads and impacts to local traffic.
But Halman insists the evidence shows the department is being badly mismanaged and a symptom of a government “that is very sloppy in terms of their management of many different departments, whether it’s our health care or our education system. “