New Brunswick

Beat up Harbour Bridge has some questioning quality of its refurbishment

It hasn’t been that long since an expensive refurbishment project finished on Saint John’s Harbour Bridge, but extensive potholes and exposed joints on the structure already have some questioning the quality of the previous work.

Exposed joints, potholes on Saint John bridge lead to questions about multi-million dollar project

The Harbour Bridge has been covered in potholes this winter. On Tuesday, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure will work on improving its condition. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

It hasn't been that long since an expensive refurbishment project was completed on Saint John, N.B.'s Harbour Bridge, but extensive potholes and exposed joints on the structure already have some questioning the quality of the previous work.

The bridge, which dates back to 1966, was in need of repairs for years.

The situation was desperate enough that work began in 2010 even before a funding deal had been hashed out, and almost a full year before the federal government handed ownership of the bridge over to the province.

After that, the province's efforts to repair the bridge were plagued by delays and financial problems with the original contractor.

The $40-million project was completed in late 2013 and now, even after summer patch-ups during following construction seasons, a drive across the bridge is anything but smooth.

"It's horrible," said Marcel Doiron, who drove across the Harbour Bridge Saturday night.  "One lane is basically, it's almost undrivable."

Conditions on the bridge are worst in the westbound lane. It will be reduced to one lane all day from 9 a.m. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

The right hand lane going westbound is where most drivers agree the worst of the damage is. A long stretch of potholes and stripped away asphalt has many avoiding it altogether.

"It was pretty bad," said Jessie Schmidt. "I usually switch to the other side."

Schmidt doesn't think the province got its money's worth during the refurbishment. She's not alone in holding that opinion. 

Ken Anthony was manager of the Harbour Bridge Authority before ownership was handed over to the province in 2011. 

"It shouldn't be anywhere near that deteriorated this soon," he said.

"The asphalt is breaking out in places, and around the expansion joints is in rough shape," said Anthony.

He questions whether the work during the rehab was done to the right standard and thinks the province should investigate.

"Somebody should for sure be following up and doing tests and measurements to see if, you know, the asphalt's failing or if it's compressed or the joints were installed properly," said Anthony.

City councillor Blake Armstrong said he thinks province wasted millions of dollars on the project. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

City councillor Blake Armstrong said he's actually gotten out of his truck on the bridge to measure exposed joints.

"It's about an inch-and-a-quarter you're driving over," said Armstrong.  "When you're doing 40 clicks, 50 clicks, it's quite hard on the suspension of your car."

Armstrong said five years after the project's completion, he thinks the bridge is in worse shape now than it was before.

"I feel we wasted millions of dollars on that retrofit," he said.

CBC News requested an interview with Bill Fraser, the minister in charge of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure. His spokesperson issued a statement instead, blaming the bridge's condition on recent weather.

"The potholes are bothersome but do not impact the bridge's structural integrity," wrote Jeremy Trevors.

Once weather permits, he said crews would begin patching it up. In the statement, Trevors said the bridge is also inspected regularly "to ensure its structural integrity remains intact."

About the Author

Matthew Bingley is a CBC reporter based in Saint John.