Minister blasts Port Mann firm for falling ice fiasco
Keven Drews, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, December 20, 2012 8:59AM PST
Last Updated Thursday, December 20, 2012 8:29PM PST
COQUITLAM, B.C. -- British Columbia's transportation minister has slammed the international contractor that built the newly-opened Port Mann Bridge, saying the forced closure of the span, only weeks after it opened, is an intolerable situation and that the firm should have been aware of potential problems.
More than 100 insurance claims were filed after chunks of ice pelted down onto vehicles from the bridge's suspension cables during a snowstorm on Wednesday. Two people were injured and the bridge, which links the Vancouver area to populous southern suburbs, was closed for several hours.
"We will not live with the bridge in that way," Mary Polak told a news conference.
"When you purchase a product in a store, when you build a bridge for $3.3 billion you believe that it will work. You expect it will work. When it doesn't work you seek for redress to that. You seek for someone to refund your money or you seek for someone to resolve the problem."
Polak said that's what the province will be doing.
"Taxpayers will not be on the hook for this and we will ensure that we have a bridge that is safe for the travelling public to use and that an event like this has a permanent solution to see that it doesn't happen again."
Polak said her ministry was "alive" to snow and ice being a potential problem on the bridge before it was built and there were specifications in the contract to address the concern.
"Clearly, what we saw yesterday shows that they did not meet those requirements."
The Crown agency that operates the bridge will pay the deductibles of drivers whose vehicles were damaged in the incident. Tolls for travellers who crossed the bridge between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesday will also be waived.
The bridge was built by Kiewit-Flatiron General Partnership. The company said in a statement it was working to figure out where the problem is and find a solution quickly.
"We're very concerned about the recent weather issues impacting motorists on the Port Mann Bridge," said the statement from Thomas Janssen, director of external affairs for the company.
"With the recent severe weather conditions, it's evident there is an issue that needs to be closely reviewed and addressed."
Prof. Tom Brown, an engineering professor at the University of Calgary known to his students as Dr. Ice, said he's confident the problem can be fixed.
Brown has worked on offshore oil rigs and Prince Edward Island's Confederation Bridge and said sometimes, problems slip through despite the best work by experts.
"This is certainly a concern because I would kind of imagine that the conditions under which it occurred, the atmospheric conditions in Vancouver, could well occur again," he said in an interview.
"I don't know what the fix will be, but it's certainly a fixable problem."
Brown noted it's not as embarrassing as the problem with London's Millennium Bridge, a suspension pedestrian thoroughfare that had to be closed within a day or two of opening in June 2000 because of a swaying motion. It took two years to fix.
Last January, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge near Seattle was shut down due to falling ice from bridge cables on a Kiewit-built bridge.
Alice Fiman, a spokeswoman at the Washington state Department of Transportation, said the problem was called "weather-related" at the time.
Fiman said Kiewit completed construction on the twin suspension bridges in 2007, and since then the span has been closed only once due to falling ice.
The Port Mann Bridge opened eight lanes Dec. 1 and was touted to slash commute times of up to an hour for some people.
It replaced an old four-lane bridge that opened in 1964, and was immediately the subject of controversy with opponents saying the money should have been spent on public transit.
Construction will continue on the new bridge and along the Highway 1 corridor through next year, when the crossing will be completed to its full 10-lane capacity. At that point, it will be the widest bridge in the world.
Cars and small trucks crossing the Port Mann are electronically assessed an introductory $1.50 toll, but the levy will rise to $3.00 per crossing by next December, with varied rates applying to larger trucks and motorists using special passes.