Port au Port Peninsula gets new bridge, but mayor and MHA say wait was too long

Residents of western Newfoundland say they're relieved the provincial government will soon replace an aging bridge that links the Port au Port Peninsula to the rest of the island.

'Poor' condition of Romaines River Bridge, built in 1970, highlighted in last inspection report

A bearded man stands in front of a bridge on a snowy day.
Jim Cashin, the mayor of Port au Port East, N.L., says he's advocated to replace the Romaines River Bridge for 18 years. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

Residents of western Newfoundland say they're relieved the provincial government will soon replace an aging bridge that links the Port au Port Peninsula to the rest of the island.

But a mayor and the area's MHA say they waited far too long for the $7.8-million project to get off the ground.

"The Romaines River Bridge is in deplorable condition and has been for many, many years. Government inspections determined that a long time ago," said Jim Cashin, mayor of Port au Port East.

Cashin was first elected to town council 18 years ago and says he's advocated for a new bridge ever since. The nearly two-decade wait was "atrocious," he said.

A truck crosses a two-lane bridge leading to a snow covered area.
The Romaines River Bridge, pictured here last week, was built in 1970. Construction of its replacement starts next year. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

The provincial government announced a deal with Ottawa in July 2019 to demolish and rebuild the bridge, but the project tender was issued only last month. 

Inspection reports detail numerous structural problems with the bridge, built in 1970. The last assessment available on the government's website, dated April 2020, recommended the current bridge be replaced and described the "poor" condition of its pavement, railings, curbs and expansion joints, as well as its super- and substructure.

"Vehicles have been having many, many repairs being done as a consequence of the condition [of the bridge] and there's always been the worry that we would have catastrophic failure leaving us stranded," said Cashin.

"This is the only link. There's no other way to get to a hospital, there's no other way for people to get back and forth to work. This is the only place to get groceries or do any shopping. This is crucial."

Crumbling concrete on a two-lane bridge.
The cracked and crumbling concrete of the Romaines River Bridge is visible from the shoulder of Route 460, which links the Port au Port Peninsula to the rest of the province. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

No safety risks, says department

In a statement, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure said there are "no safety risks associated with Romaines River Bridge and the bridge continues to be safe for all users."

"Significant engineering work must be completed before a tender can be issued to replace a bridge. This includes geotechnical work, hydrology studies, concept designs, tender designs and an RFP [request for proposals] for a design of the new bridge," the statement reads. "For this project, as the road will be reconstructed to align with the new bridge, a new road design to determine the best solution for the new road was also required. All of this takes time to complete."

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Elvis Loveless was attending a funeral and unavailable for an interview, according to a spokesperson.

Warped guard rails on the a two-lane bridge.
The guardrails are warped on the Romaines River Bridge, the only road link between the Port au Port Peninsula and the rest of Newfoundland. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

Construction should be completed in 2024

On Nov. 10, Complete Concrete Solutions was awarded the $7.8-million contract to construct the new two-span bridge. The new 12-metre structure will be erected a few metres south of the existing bridge, which will be dismantled.

The new bridge will be "capable of withstanding increased water flows during major weather events, including resistance to ice damming," according to a Nov. 10 government press release.

Work will begin in the new year and will be completed in 2024, said a department spokesperson Monday.

Timeline 'could have been expedited,' says PC MHA

Tony Wakeham, the Progressive-Conservative MHA for Stephenville-Port au Port, said that in the interim, "it's going to be critical for government to continue to monitor the existing bridge because the new bridge will not be built overnight."

"I understand sometimes that getting access to funding between the federal and provincial governments is often a slow process, but at the same time, we've been speaking out about this. I can show you email after email," Wakeham said. "The timeline, to me, could have been expedited."

About 5,000 people live on the Port au Port Peninsula, a few kilometres west of Stephenville.

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Patrick Butler is a Radio-Canada journalist based in St. John's. He previously worked for CBC News in Toronto and Montreal.