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Sloppy with bridges - Poor maintenance blamed for damage which left communities cut off

Published:Friday | May 19, 2017 | 10:02 AMCorey Robinson
This recently opened bridge that links Pennants to Morgan’s Pass has been affected during the heavy rains last week, with the foundation compromised.

As State agencies continue to tally the cost of the damage to the island from the flood rains last week, there are fresh concerns that some bridges suffered damage because they are not being maintained effectively and on time.

At least four major bridges were heavily damaged by the floodwaters last week while several smaller bridges were destroyed or left impassable, leaving Dr Horace Chang, the Cabinet minister with responsibility for water, environment and housing, and one of the island's leading engineers, Dr Wayne Reid, convinced that a lack of regular maintenance is to be blamed.

"Over the years, we have not maintained them properly. They were maybe built 30 or 40 years ago and do have the lifespan of 70 years, but the population has increased, we have allowed people to build on the riverbanks, and the flow of water has become much more aggressive than it would have been 30 years ago," Chang told The Sunday Gleaner last Wednesday.

"I have said it before in Parliament, that we tend not to maintain. A lot of us who are very edifice-oriented ... that applies to the agencies and the political directorate. We like to build things, open them and then we leave them.

"It is something that I feel strongly about. We need to maintain what we do. It is a total waste. There is a certain level of inefficiency which we must not accept. It really is not the sort of thing we should allow to happen," added Chang.

He argued that in many cases it is not the bridges but their abutments that are eroded by heavy rainfall, crippling the integrity of the structure.

Late last week, communications director at the National Works Agency (NWA), Stephen Shaw, told The Sunday Gleaner that four of the 750 bridges the agency has responsibility for were seriously damaged by the floodwaters.

Shaw said Clarendon was worst hit, with three of its bridges suffering extensive damage, while St Mary accounted for the other NWA-maintained bridge that suffered structural damage.

quarterly inspection

According to Shaw, the NWA bridges are thoroughly inspected every quarter.

But Dr Reid, consultant engineer at Jentech Consultants Limited, is not convinced. He questioned whether documented inspections and repairs are being done on the island's bridges.

"Are these things being done? They are supposed to be done and documented on a regular basis. It is not just when you get a lot of rain, like now, you run go out there to see if it is ok.

"Those things are supposed to be on file," said Reid, as he listed abutments, the clearance of waterways beneath the bridges and their weight capability as areas where essential and regular checks ought to be made.

"I believe that either something has gone wrong with the bridges before or with the waterway approaches to the bridges," said Reid.

"You don't design a bridge for good times, you design for maximum flows of water and maximum loads of traffic.

"This amount of water that came down, I don't think was an extraordinary amount of water in terms of bridge design, therefore, the bridges should have withstood the flows," argued Reid.

The preliminary estimate of the damage to the island's infrastructure was put at $500 million last week.

The local government ministry has already released $175 million in emergency funds to six parishes to assist in restorative efforts.