Taking a leisurely walk on the Sir Ambrose Shea lift bridge that spans the “Gut” in Placentia, it is the magnificent lift mechanisms inside towers rising into the air and the scenic view of the bay that can grab your attention.
Coupled with a cool wind driving in off the sea and the rush of rolling waves through the channel under the sturdy steel structure, most people would not notice the scraggly, thin cracks that run the width of the bridge’s concrete sidewalks.
That’s not the case for Placentia native Tom Careen, however.
Careen started counting cracks that seemed to form in the concrete sidewalks not long after the Sir Ambrose lift bridge was officially opened in 2016.
Over time, he said, the number of cracks has increased, and during a recent walk in late October he counted 77 in total for both sides of the bridge.
“Walking along, mere weeks after the official opening, I noticed numerous cracks in the concrete sidewalks,” Careen stated in a recent letter to the editor in The Telegram.
“Being trained by a large Albertan construction company many years ago in spotting deficiencies in materials and workmanship, I counted 56 serious cracks (in 2016). These were not spidery surface cracks and most of them ran right across the six-foot wide sidewalks and could be plainly seen on the vertical, exposed edges of the sidewalks.”
On a walk along the bridge, the cracks seem like those you’d see running across a concrete basement or garage floor in your house, or on normal street sidewalks.
Many of the cracks on the bridge sidewalks run under, or close to, the steel support poles that carry the huge steel safety rails. Those rails run the length of the bridge on both sides and the support poles are bolted into or through the concrete sidewalk slabs.
Careen believes the cracks may represent a more serious issue, one that could lead to rust and deterioration of rebar and other parts of the structure over time. He called the province’s Department of Transportation and Works in 2016 to advise them of the cracks.
“There’s something wrong there. I can’t prove it. I’m not an engineer,” he said. “The deficiencies are not cosmetic and may well be structural, or maybe just the sophomoric omission of expansion joints. The cracks provide entry for water, the ever-present salt air, and road salt to reach the reinforcing steel in the sidewalks, and from there down to the reinforced concrete slabs of the two road decks.”
In a statement to The Telegram, the Department of Transportation and Works said: “The small surface cracks in question are in fact typical of most concrete slabs/sidewalks. All rebar in the structure is galvanized and none of the cracks is significant enough to require any repair. The maintenance contractor recently completed a routine inspection of the bridge in accordance with required inspection schedule intervals. No deficiencies were identified.”
According to provincial government information, construction of the Sir Ambrose Shea lift bridge began in 2013 and it opened to traffic on Sept. 23, 2016. Total cost, including the removal of the old lift bridge, came to about $47.7 million.
The construction of the new bridge saw the placement of 9,200 metres of steel piling, 3,800 cubic metres of concrete, 150 tonnes of reinforcing steel and approximately 976 tonnes of structural steel.
The bridge is lifted approximately 2,400 times annually for marine traffic and sees about 6,500 vehicles pass over per day. During the busiest spring months when crab and lobster fisheries are at their peak, the bridge can lift over 400 times a month.
The original lift bridge, also named after Sir Ambrose Shea, was opened in 1961 and was designed to allow fishing boats to enter and leave Placentia gut, while allowing vehicles to drive directly between Jerseyside and Placentia for the first time.
According to Library and Archives Canada, Sir Ambrose Shea (Sept. 17, 1815-July 30, 1905), was a Newfoundland politician and businessman — he once represented the Placentia-St. Mary’s area, and was one of two Newfoundland delegates to the Quebec Conference (the second conference leading to the creation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867). He later went on to become governor of the Bahamas.