Failing infrastructure severs vital transportation link

By now we have grown accustomed to the compelling arguments in favour of re-investing in Canada’s crumbling infrastructure, but what are we to make of the damage to the bridge over the Nipigon River which is new and not even fully constructed?  In case you missed the story, the bridge failed recently when bolts holding the structure to the western abutment snapped.   As a result the bridge was fully closed for a period of time and the initial repair has load restrictions.

Given the importance of the crossing on the only highway connection from east to west, this is a major problem since there is no alternate route through this part of Canada.   This is inconveniencing travelers, impacting on our Northern economy, and has the domestic trucking industry looking at the federal and provincial governments for a quick solution. 

While some vehicles can re-route through the United States, this is not so easy for truckers.  Ever since the US tightened their borders over security concerns, it is more difficult for truckers to use the southern route around Lake Superior.  According to the Ontario Trucking Association and the Canadian Trucking Alliance, $100 million worth of goods crosses the Nipigon River every day.  An initial repair is allowing smaller trucks through but those carrying very large loads are not being allowed across which is why it is important for governments to look for a solution at the American border as quickly as they can.

As mentioned at the outset, this is not an old bridge failing, it only opened months ago and is not even fully constructed yet.  Once completed, the new bridge will have four lanes of traffic.  The fact that the engineering firm behind the project is from Spain is only adding to the bad optics for the provincial government.  An eye witness of the event says there was a tremendous gust of wind and the temperature was falling quickly when the bridge failed. Speculation abounds that the Spanish firm may not have factored in the dramatic temperature swings we can have in the North.  But that is merely speculation and there are likely all kinds of people involved with the construction who are hanging by tenterhooks waiting for the real cause to be determined.

That said, this is a real shame.  Public dollars are precious and the $106 million price tag for the bridge will surely rise as repairs are factored in.  In the meantime it is only reasonable to assume there will be calls to construct an alternate route so that another emergency doesn’t cut the country in half again.