Two years after the mayor of Campobello Island raised concerns about the safety of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Bridge, repairs and upgrades are underway.
The work, which includes structural repairs and pier reinforcement, is expected to be completed by Sept. 30, according to a public advisory issued by the New Brunswick Department of Transportation.
Meanwhile, traffic will be reduced to one lane and there will also be four, 30-minute closures "during light traffic times," the advisory states.
Mayor Stephen Smart says the work on 50-year-old bridge, which links the small New Brunswick island to Lubec, Me., is long overdue.
The international bridge is the only year-round link to the mainland for Campobello's estimated 900 residents and it has been moving.
Similar work on the U.S. side was completed about four years ago, said Smart.
He says he is pleased the repairs are finally being done on the New Brunswick side, but says he still has some concerns about the process.
Residents have been "kind of running on rumour" because they've had no direct communication from the Department of Transportation or local Progressive Conservative MLA Curtis Malloch about the project, despite its impact on their daily lives, he said.
Malloch, however, disputes that. He says he "did make a couple of contacts with council."
He says he called the island council's clerk three or four months ago to say bridge work was pending. Then, about a month ago, the clerk called him back, at the mayor's request, to ask when the work would be starting.
Malloch says he told her the tender was out and once it was awarded, he would let them know. He says he did call the day, or day after it was awarded, but could not say at that time when the work would start. He did not follow up with a date, but the government issued the advisory, he said.
Concerns about effect on emergency vehicles, tourism
The only gas station is on the Maine side and all emergency services have to travel through the United States and the only other way off the island is small, privately-operated ferries that run between late June and mid-September.
"It would be good just to set people’s minds at ease and of course, in a perfect world, it would be nice if we had another way off Campobello Island we could depend on during this crisis," said Smart.
The biggest concern, he said, is about the effect lane reductions and closures will have on ambulances and fire trucks.
"We’ve had assurances from American customs and Canadian customs as well that they’ll be clearing lanes and they’ll make sure that emergency vehicles get through, get priority above everyone else," he said.
"We'll see how it goes."
'Generally people are glad to have it happening. We’re just a little bit apprehensive that it may cause more problems than we know about right now due to a lack of information, I guess.' —Campobello Mayor Stephen Smart
Smart is also worried about the possible impact on tourism, which the island is heavily dependent upon. "One more reason not to come here is something we don't need," he said.
During the last fiscal year, the Campobello point of entry processed about 74,564 personally-owned vehicles, 1,285 commercial vehicles and 141,848 travellers between April and September, statistics show.
"You know it’s one more delay at the border, it’s one more little hassle living here. But generally people are glad to have it happening. We’re just a little bit apprehensive that it may cause more problems than we know about right now due to a lack of information, I guess," said Smart.
Transportation Minister Claude Williams has been unavailable for comment since Friday.
According to the Canada Border Services Agency, the work includes the replacement of bearings, rehabilitation of concrete cap beams and the addition of steel diaphragms at Piers No. 5, No. 6 and No. 7, as well as the addition of stability reinforcement at Pier No. 7.
The estimated cost of the project is $1.3 million. Fundy Contractor Limited is doing the work.