The opposition parties want reports detailing the malfunction of the Nipigon River Bridge to be released by the government post haste.
In a letter delivered to the the premier's office Friday, Progressive Conservative transportation critic Michael Harris demanded the results of two independent tests on the bridge's bolts as well as the internal analysis conducted by the transportation ministry's own engineers.
"The continued stalling and ministerial direction to prevent the release of pertinent information on the causes of the Nipigon Bridge failure belies a lack of transparency that leads to questions as to what the government is hiding," the letter reads.
Ontario's first cable-stayed bridge, built in Nipigon (a township of about 1,600 located about 100 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay) at a cost of $106-million, cleaves the Ontario portion of the Trans Canada Highway into east and west, and according to the CBC, carries about 1,300 trucks hauling $100 million worth of goods on a typical day. In January, less than two months after it opened, 40 bolts fastened at the northwest bearing failed and caused the corner of the bridge to elevate 60 centimeters, making the bridge impassable. No injuries were reported and a temporary hold-down system was installed in February, re-opening two-lane traffic and green-lighting continued construction (with completion slated for 2017).
In response, the government shipped the bolts off to two independent labs at the National Research Council and the University of Western Ontario to find out what went wrong, and has been sitting on the results for weeks, saying they are just one thread in a larger tapestry.
Speaking to reporters at Queen's Park on Friday, Harris castigated the decision and said the public has a right to transparency. "It's more about protecting their own hides than ensuring the public has all the information. Taxpayers, especially northerners, deserve to know what happened," he said.
Harris was echoing a similar demand from the NDP’s transportation critic, Wayne Gates, who two weeks ago issued a statement decrying the government’s delay.
“People deserve to know what is in those reports, and what’s being done to fix the problems so this doesn’t happen again, and won’t happen elsewhere. Ontarians shouldn’t have to wait until next fall to learn why the Nipigon Bridge failed. People deserve answers. Dragging this out will only make it harder to complete repairs before next winter,” Gates said.
But Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca maintained that releasing the reports now would be “irresponsible” and a “reckless approach.”
“From my perspective, releasing limited information in piecemeal fashion prior to having all of the facts does not help us get to the root cause of the bridge failure,” Del Duca said in a statement.
In addition to the bolt tests, the ministry is partway through its own analysis, and has commissioned an independent engineering consultant that specializes in cable-stayed bridges, Associated Engineering (Ont.) Ltd., to investigate.
“These reports constitute only one part of the comprehensive investigation that is ongoing. The bolt testing looked at very specific things — for example: were the bolts properly manufactured, did they meet specifications, and did they react as they should in cold temperatures. Ministry bridge engineers are continuing their thorough analysis to determine what happened to the bridge."
MTO added the bridge is currently safe for public use and construction continues.
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