No easy fix for crumbling bridges in New Brunswick
Tories, Liberals both unsure how to deal with nearly 300 bridges that AG says need 'significant' work
The Alward government and Opposition Liberals both appear unsure what to do about the province's crumbling bridges.
The auditor general announced Thursday 293 bridge structures across New Brunswick — about one in nine — received a "poor" rating on the Bridge Condition Index and need "significant" work.
Kim MacPherson warned against allowing the bridges to deteriorate any further, but also warned about out of control spending that may make repairs unaffordable.
Transportation Minister Claude Williams says he agrees with the auditor general that delaying repairs is a mistake, but offered no assurance of improvement in the legislature on Friday.
"Certainly everybody realizes we need to invest more in our infrastructure in New Brunswick. We don't disagree with that," he said.
"But again, we've got to deal with the financial situation and again with the infrastructure, we're talking over 3,000 bridges in New Brunswick."
Williams would not say whether he'll go above the $514 million projected for next year's capital construction budget.
"I would like to see more, but again we are having challenges in terms of the financial situation," he said.
Liberal finance critic Roger Melanson told reporters the government should stick to its capital budget plan, but also said it should adjust the plan if necessary.
Melanson says until he knows what capital projects make up that $514 million, he can't say whether the Tories should scrimp or spend.
Liberal Leader Brian Gallant warned against reckless pre-election spending that would add to the province's debt.
"Can we get a commitment from the premier that fiscal austerity will remain?"
A few minutes later, however, fellow Liberal Bill Fraser called for quick action — and quick spending — on bridge repairs.
"Has the department developed a bridge maintenance program that would see maintenance on these 293 bridges carried out in the next year?"
MacPherson says the public has a right to know about all of the bridges that are in poor condition.
She is calling on New Brunswick to follow the lead of Ontario and Quebec and publicly report on the condition of bridges.
"There's an accountability obligation on the part of government that the public knows the state of our bridges," MacPherson said.