The provincial government has promised to replace a bridge in such poor condition that it cannot support an ambulance or fire truck.

English Harbour East residents have been using a temporary Bailey bridge for about 20 years. The temporary, second-hand steel bridge was intended for use until a permanent structure could be erected.

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Mayor Janet Rideout is worried about whether the Bailey bridge is strong enough to last another year. (CBC )

Patched up over the years, the bridge was deemed last week to be unable to support heavy loads. The weight restriction was slashed from 20 tonnes to 2.5 tonnes, meaning that children have to walk across the bridge to meet a school bus that is now not permitted to cross it.

Fire trucks and garbage trucks are also banned from crossing the bridge.

One resident said people who look at the structure can spot the problems.

"When I looked at that man out there, he was panicking," said resident Guy Hackett.

 "When he come up from under that bridge there, 'you're looking at matchsticks.' That's what he was saying. 'Matchsticks.' "

Government crews started work Monday on repairs that can get the Bailey bridge through the winter and into next year. Those repairs are expected to be finished by the end of this week.

Moreover, the area's elected representative said a permanent fix is in the cards.

Calvin Peach, who represents Bellevue district in the house of assembly, hopped on a flatbed truck on Monday to deliver a message from Transportation and Works Minister Tom Hedderson.

"There will be a new bridge in 2013 for English Harbour East. The minister emailed me on that this morning," Peach told residents.

People greeted the message with a mixture of optimism and skepticism.

Bessie Mitchell, for instance, said she has heard many other promises before.

"We are so sick of over the years hearing empty promises," she said.

"He's assuring us it's not an empty promise but if we can get it in writing, we'll post it and we'll be happy."

Mayor Janet Rideout said the state of the Bailey bridge is a concern, even with the newest repairs.

"How long is that going to last? After they leave here when it's done, who's to say another transom is not going to break? And will we know that it's broken and maybe it will break when a school bus is going across?"

With files from Martine Blue