Port Mann Bridge closure unacceptable, says minister
Company that built the bridge will have to fix it, says Minister Mary Polak
B.C.'s transportation minister says the company that built the Port Mann Bridge will have to fix it because there is no way the government will accept a bridge that has to be closed because of falling ice.
On Wednesday afternoon the new 11-lane toll bridge was closed for several hours after snow and ice fell from the bridge’s support cables, injuring two people and damaging dozens of vehicles.
On Thursday in Vancouver, Minister Mary Polak said there is no way the company should have built a bridge where this can happen.
Polak says it was a clear in the contract with Kiewit Flatiron that the company was to build a cable bridge where snow and ice does not fall on the traffic deck and there is no way the government will accept otherwise.
She says says taxpayers paid for a bridge that needs to be safe and open to traffic regardless of the weather and Kiewit will have to come up with permanent solution to stop the falling ice,
"We will be looking to the contractor to provide us with not only a long-term permanent solution to ensure that this never ever happens again, but also for an immediate fix to the problem," said Polak.
Polak said drivers on the Port Mann yesterday between 10 a.m. PT and 6 p.m. PT will have their tolls waived and those that suffered vehicle damage will have their deductibles paid for them.
Company working on solution
Kiewit's head office in the U.S. issued a statement on Thursday afternoon saying they were "very concerned about the recent weather issues and were working to identify and implement a solution as quickly as possible.
"The safety of the traveling public is and always will be of the utmost importance," said the statement issued by Thomas C. Janssen, the company's director of external affairs.
"With the recent severe weather conditions, it’s evident there is an issue that needs to be closely reviewed and addressed."
On Wednesday the head of the Crown corporation that oversaw the construction of the Port Mann Bridge said they are reviewing the closure of the multi-billion-dollar span.
Mike Proudfoot, the CEO of the Transportation Investment Corporation, admits the coating on the cables that was supposed to push snow away from the deck didn't work.
But, he said, Wednesday was an unusual day.
"This is an extreme weather situation," he said.
"It is very rare, especially in the Lower Mainland, but it does occur and it has had similar effects on other cable stay bridges in other jurisdictions … Snow can accumulate on any structure over roadways and no bridge is immune to it, but what we saw was a very unusual combination of winter conditions."
Proudfoot said engineers were sent to the bridge and the contractor has been asked to come up with plans to avoid such problems in the future.
The corporation says it will forgive the toll and pick up the insurance deductible for vehicles damaged on the bridge.
'It'll happen again'
According to Perry Adebar, a professor of structural engineering at UBC, the bridge’s construction is to be blamed for the falling ice.
"The reason it happened, I think, is fairly clear," he said.
"The cables on that bridge are inclined over the bridge deck. If you look at the other bridges in the Lower Mainland, they're not like that."
Christos Georgakis, a structural engineering expert from Denmark, says bridge designers often don't do risk assessments for icing, despite the fact that falling ice is common on bridges in northern regions.
"If it happened once, it'll happen again," he said. "And I think I would expect any cable-supported bridge at that latitude to have icing at some point or another."
But Georgakis adds he doesn't think it's worth redesigning the bridge.
He says no one has developed an effective way to prevent ice buildup on bridge cables, and officials should have anticipated the risk and closed the bridge.
ICBC says it has already received more than 60 claims linked to the ice falling on the Port Mann Bridge.
The $2.4-billion bridge, which serves more than 100,000 motorists every day, reopened early Wednesday evening.