N.S. bridges need closer monitoring to prioritize repair, replacement, says AG
'If the province wanted to eventually replace all the provincial bridges it could take 200 years'
The province's auditor general is warning about inconsistent record-keeping around Nova Scotia's 4,200 bridges.
Michael Pickup says there isn't a clear picture for managers to prioritize bridge replacement and maintenance projects.
The office's report, released Tuesday, outlines several flaws in the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal's processes and information system, which left three bridges in poor condition off the department's priority list.
Pickup found staff across four districts are not consistently recording maintenance work and recommendations coming out of inspections, leaving a lack of centralized information for management.
Each district has its own format for tracking deficiencies using spreadsheets, the report said, but that information is not maintained in the central system.
"This means there is no centralized, easily accessible, permanent record of repairs recommended from each inspection," Pickup wrote.
The department on Tuesday identified the three bridges cited in Pickup's report as Harmony Mills Bridge in Queens County, the storm flow multiplate bridge under Route 360 near Berwick, and the Middle Clyde Bridge in Shelburne County.
A spokesperson said work on the Harmony Mills Bridge is scheduled for this summer. The culvert under Route 360 is on the priority list for 2023-24. Middle Clyde Bridge, which has a one tonne weight restriction, could be replaced the same year.
The audit also found some bridges were not inspected at regular intervals, including annual inspections and reviews at the end of warranty periods.
The department has also failed to clearly define training requirements for inspectors or criteria for ranking projects, the report said.
"Without documented criteria, it is impossible to assess decisions made in the past and it creates a risk that management may not identify bridges that are the highest priority for repair and replacement," wrote Pickup.
Pickup said the department's limited budget of about $45 million a year to maintain, repair and replace bridges requires careful decision-making on which projects should go first.
"Management needs to have complete and accurate information to assist them in making fully informed decisions on which projects to do and when to do them," said Pickup in a news release Tuesday.
The department said on Tuesday it accepts all of Pickup's recommendations to improve information tracking and will hire a planner to prioritize all highway infrastructure work.
Bridges are safe, minister says
Minister Lloyd Hines said people can be assured the province's bridges are safe.
The province replaces between 15 and 20 bridges a year. Modern bridges have a lifespan of about 75 years and older bridges last about 50 years, the report said.
"If the province wanted to eventually replace all the provincial bridges it could take 200 years at the current rate," said Pickup.
A departmental needs assessment in January 2019 stated that 51 per cent of provincial bridges are in good condition, with 34 per cent were in fair condition and 15 per cent poor or worse.
In March, the department said many bridges in the province were built around the same time and are coming to the end of their lifespan. The department said it increased funding for rehabilitating bridges over the past few years.