New Brunswick

Jemseg bridge recommended for closure in 2013, report shows

It took the provincial government more than 17 months to act on an inspector's recommendation to consider demolishing the old Jemseg bridge, a recently released report has revealed.

Inspection found 'major deterioration throughout multiple components'

It took the provincial government more than 17 months to act on an inspector's recommendation to consider demolishing the old Jemseg bridge, a recently released report has revealed.

Jemseg Bridge was closed on May 22 over safety concerns, following an inspection the day before, but a previous inspection in 2013 had also recommended closure. (Ed Hunter/CBC)
In October, 2013, inspectors concluded the circa-1960 bridge had "major deterioration throughout multiple components, and if it is going to remain open to traffic will need a major rehab as soon as possible."

"The bridge should be considered for closure and demolition," it said.

The Department of Transportation closed the bridge to traffic on May 22, 2015, one day after a follow-up inspection of the underside of the structure, which was also recommended in 2013.

Inspectors found water leaking through joints on the bridge deck had caused "wide cracking, spalling and disintegration" of the concrete below.

They also noticed that one of the bearings, which allows the bridge to withstand New Brunswick's freeze-thaw cycles, had "fallen out of its position and to the ground." This was noted as a "significant defect that has developed since the last inspection [in 2013]."

Department of Transportation officials could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The government is currently considering whether to repair or demolish the bridge.

Finance Minister Roger Melanson has estimated it would cost about $3 million to repair.

Problems date back to 2001

The 650-metre structure used to be the main Trans-Canada bridge crossing the Jemseg River between Fredericton and Moncton, but in 2001 it became secondary after the new twin highway was completed through the area.

An inspection found water leaking through joints on the bridge deck had caused 'wide cracking, spalling and disintegration' of the concrete below. (Ed Hunter/CBC)
Since then, traffic diminished to "a couple vehicles crossing it per hour," and little or no maintenance was carried out, according to the inspection reports. 

In October 2001, for example, an inspection found, "the deck drains have moderate accumulations of dirt," and some "drain troughs are plugged and not functioning and should be cleaned now." 

Five years later, in 2006, the problem had worsened. At lest one deck drain had "cracked and split." Several drains and troughs were still in need of work, and "they are causing concrete to deteriorate," according to the report. 

It was noted that "no repairs were done [since 2001] and the bridge remains in basically the same condition."

In 2013, officials listed a "new drainage system and expansion joint trough system," as one of several repairs needed.

Finally, in May, inspectors concluded that the unfixed water problems had caused many of the beams that hold up the bridge to "have significant deterioration on their bottom due to water leaking from the disconnected/broken deck drain pipes." 

Spalling, which is a type of surface failure that causes concrete to break away, was noted on several areas of the old Jemseg bridge as early as 2001 and also became worse over time.

Bridge not cited in AG report

Despite the problems noted in 2001, 2006, and 2008, the old Jemseg bridge was not listed as being in poor condition in a report by Auditor General Kim MacPherson in 2013.

McPherson reviewed the status of bridges throughout the province. 

Of the 2,553 bridges maintained by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, she found 293 were considered to be in poor condition, with a bridge condition index (BCI) score of 60 or less.

BCI is not a measure of safety, but rather "an indication that significant maintenance work is required on that bridge in the near term in order to keep the bridge in service," the report stated.

The province's chief financial watchdog also noted that "the investment in regular maintenance and bridge rehabilitation in recent years has been steadily decreasing," and the process for managing bridge upkeep was "informal, unsystematic, and undocumented."

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