Perspective is an interesting thing. If your youngster just came home with a year-end report card that listed much of his or her work as “fair” or “poor,” you’d probably be concerned.
If you were a cabinet minister and the report card was on the safety of the province’s bridges — 731 inspections in all, of which 588 were in fair or poor condition — you might look at it differently.
By and large, according to Transportation and Works Minister Tom Hedderson, the low rankings are “… basically cosmetic. (Bridges are) not going to fall down.”
That may be true, but when you’re looking at the review of these critical pieces of infrastructure, a review The Telegram released this past weekend, you can’t ignore the fact that, for whatever reason, 168 bridges rank at the bottom as being in poor condition.
“Poor” is essentially the lowest rating a bridge can have, with the exception of being listed as “unsafe.”
And even bridges ranked in the “fair” category aren’t without their problems: the Placentia lift bridge held a “fair” ranking right up until the point when it suddenly received weight restrictions for traffic and the province disclosed the need for urgent repairs.
Why are the structures in such bad shape?
Well, Hedderson points out that Liberal administrations in the 1990s cut back on infrastructure funding and that pinch simply put off much needed work. That’s certainly true. As Hedderson puts it, “The ’90s, it was a terrible time. A lot of our infrastructure, we’re paying the price for it now.”
Hedderson also pointed out that the province has spent $22 million on bridges in the last three years.
But with all due respect, there’s a point, especially after nearly 10 years in office, when you have to stop blaming current conditions on the government that came before you. After a decade in office, it sounds a little bit like a university student blaming his poor grades on his Grade 3 teacher — or like someone complaining “the dog ate my homework 10 years ago.”
That’s especially the case when problems with bridges have been known about for every single year of the current Tory administration’s tenure.
Similar problems with the province’s bridges were pointed out by the auditor-general in 2003, who, at that time, pointed out that the department didn’t have a long-term plan for bridge upgrades, replacements or the funding needed to undertake the work. (Passing the buck is a political constant, it seems: the 2003 auditor general’s report was delivered to the Tories, but mostly examined spending priorities by the former Liberal government of Roger Grimes. Grimes’ response to the auditor’s findings back then? A churlish-sounding “They are the government now … the government answers for it.”)
The poor performance of bridges during inspections is of even more concern when you stop to think that, in 2003, reports on the bridges showed just 80 bridges in poor condition.
More than twice as many are in that condition now, despite years and years of unexpected, unforecasted oil profits. When the current government has had the money, the opportunity and was aware of the problems, it’s hard to swallow the claim that it’s all someone else’s fault.