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Nearly 400 Nova Scotia bridges corroding, crumbling

Estimates show the province is about $100 million a year short of what's needed to keep its highways and crossings in good condition

HALIFAX—Nova Scotia’s bridges are corroding and crumbling to the point where 391 of those inspected were listed as having serious damage including missing concrete, says a provincial database.

Chief highway engineer Bruce Fitzner says the decline of bridges has reached the point where the government might consider closing smaller crossings that aren’t frequently used.

Using the freedom-of-information law, The Canadian Press obtained 3,021 inspection reports done on bridges in 2012, the last year where records are complete.

An analysis of the data from those reports shows 13 per cent of the bridges inspected were in poor shape, or worse. The database is based on preliminary and advanced inspections of the bridges.

Poor condition means a bridge has advanced section loss, pieces of concrete falling off and structure that was worn away by water and sediment, the database says. Those considered in serious shape—a worse ranking than poor—had various forms of erosion and crumbling that affected primary structural components.

The percentage of bridges in poor or worse condition grew gradually from just under 11 per cent in 2010, while those listed in good or better shape fell from 54.6 per cent to 53.3 per cent over three years, the database says.

Just under half of the province’s 4,310 bridges are more than 50 years old, Fitzner said.

He said the bridges remain safe, in part because when they are too deteriorated they are either closed or a new maximum weight is posted. Fifty-three bridges are on a five-year replacement or repair list, he added.

The database does not say how many bridges have been closed.

Fitzner said tight budgets mean many of those listed as poor or worse will have to wait for repairs as the province’s salty air takes its toll.

“You start losing the metal to oxidation,” he said. “If you have a very rigorous painting program you keep that section loss from happening, and in a lot of cases we aren’t doing that as much as we should be doing it.”

Highway 7, located along the province’s windy and scenic Eastern Shore, has a dozen bridges that were in poor or serious condition, the database says.

“Timber abutments are rotten,” says an inspection report dated Aug. 14, 2012, on the Gaetz Brook Bridge, one of the bridges cited along that stretch of road. The Spry Bay Bridge, east of the Gaetz Brook Bridge, was found to have “severe widespread crushing of abutment and pier members” in an inspection report dated April 3, 2012.

“All of them are deteriorating at roughly the same rate and they’re all coming up due for a major rehabilitation or replacement,” Will Crocker, the province’s chief bridge engineer, said in an interview.

On the Trans-Canada Highway between Halifax and Truro, an overpass at Nine Mile River is listed as having “heavy pitting and section loss on girders,” with a note saying, “superstructure needs repairs.”

Crocker said the Transportation Department will keep monitoring the bridges and, in some cases, the work will be timed to coincide with highway upgrades.

In some counties, inspectors occasionally add handwritten notes on the state of decline of the bridges, many of them small and on quiet roads.

“Bad shape,” an inspector says about the Campbell Meadow Bridge in Kings County. “On the project list for last two or three years!”

IFitzner said the province is also hoping that Ottawa’s $14-billion infrastructure program—the Building Canada Fund in last year’s budget—will add to budgets for roads and bridges.

In the meantime, he estimates the province is about $100 million a year short of what’s needed to keep its highways and crossings in good condition.

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