Five Pictou County bridges listed as ‘poor’ or ‘serious’ condition

John Brannen
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Fairy tales and legends indicate that unpleasant things and creatures lurk under bridges. But looking at over 3,000 inspection reports done on bridges in Nova Scotia in 2012, fanciful creatures aren’t the only reason for concern.

INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: Nova Scotia's bridges in decay

The province’s bridges are corroding and crumbling to the point where 391 of those inspected were listed as having serious damage, including missing concrete, says a provincial database.

Using the Freedom of Information law, The Canadian Press obtained 3,021 inspection reports done on bridges in 2012, the last year where records are complete.

In Pictou County, five bridges have made the list of the province’s bridges noted for being in poor or serious condition. Only one, Seal Creek Bridge near River John, is listed as being in serious condition.

Other bridges of concern in the county include Sheriff Brook Bridge in Three Brooks, G Sutherland and Matheson Bridges near West Branch River John and Six Mile Brook Bridge.

An analysis of the data from those reports shows 13 per cent of the bridges inspected in the province were in poor or worse shape. The database is based on preliminary and advanced inspections of the bridges.

Bridges in poor condition were those that had advanced section loss, pieces of concrete falling off and structure that was worn away by water and sediment, the database says. Those considered in serious shape – a worse ranking than poor – had various forms of erosion and crumbling that affected primary structural components.

Will Crocker, bridge maintenance engineer for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, noted that of the 4,300 bridges in the province, the majority are formed with timber.

“Some were built in the 1930s and they’ve lasted tremendously well,” he said. “But we’re at the point where wood is rotting, abutments are deteriorating and we begin to see further problems.”

In a 2012 inspectors report, the Seal Creek Bridge was said to have been in poor condition two years prior.

"Bearing timbers on piers two and three continue to deteriorate and progressively get worse on pier three,” it read.

Pictou County Municipal Warden Ronald Baillie noted he takes drives over Seal Creek Bridge fairly regularly and its condition is concerning.

“It’s certainly something that district’s constituents and I weren’t aware of,” he said.

There is some light at the end of the bridge, however. All the bridges of concern in the county are timber and due to be repaired or replaced by 2016 or earlier.

Crocker said none of the bridges are unsafe for vehicles.

“The condition of the bridge isn’t directly related to if a bridge is safe or not. That’s a decision made after assessment by an engineer,” he said. “But it is a wake-up call that we have aging infrastructure in this province.”

Six Mile Brook is due to be completely replaced in 2014 while G Sutherland is due to be replaced in 2016. The department has yet to determine whether timber will be used again as the primary material.

“Every site is unique and while we are still using timber for bridges, we’re also looking at concrete and steel and other materials,” Crocker said. “We’ve used fiberglass, wood composite and other products to be innovative and keep costs low.”

While bridges gradually weaken over time, Crocker noted that some unexpected events could accelerate a bridge’s deterioration. Six Mile Brook, for example, was closed because of storm damage.

Chief highway engineer Bruce Fitzner said the decline of bridges has reached the point where the government might consider closing smaller crossings that aren’t frequently used.

He said the bridges remain safe, in part because when they are too deteriorated they are either closed or a new maximum weight is posted. Fifty-three bridges are on a five-year replacement or repair list, he added.

The database does not say how many bridges have been closed.

Fitzner said tight budgets mean many of those listed as poor or worse will have to wait for repairs as the province’s salty air takes its toll.

“You start losing the metal to oxidation,” he said. “If you have a very rigorous painting program you keep that section loss from happening, and in a lot of cases we aren’t doing that as much as we should be doing it.”

Partial results released for last year show that 3,950 bridge inspection reports were done, but 527 of those are incomplete, the database says. Of those that are complete, 344 were ranked poor or worse.

The problems detected affect all sorts of bridges, from those in tiny, out-of-the way areas to busy overpasses in Halifax.

On the Trans-Canada Highway between Halifax and Truro, an overpass at Nine Mile River is listed as having “heavy pitting and section loss on girders,” with a note saying, “superstructure needs repairs.”

Crocker said the Transportation Department will keep monitoring the bridges and, in some cases, the work will be timed to coincide with highway upgrades.

In some counties, inspectors occasionally add handwritten notes on the state of decline of the bridges, many of them small and on quiet roads.

“Bad shape,” an inspector says about the Campbell Meadow Bridge in Kings County. “On the project list for last two or three years!”

In Cape Breton, the Crowdis Bridge over the Margaree River was closed due to its deteriorated condition. After pressure from community leaders who were worried about being cut off from emergency services, the Transportation Department agreed to replace it.

However, Fitzner said such agreements to fix one bridge could mean communities have to accept that other small bridges can’t remain open.

“We ultimately need to look at the amount of infrastructure we have,” he said. “At some point in the future does it make sense to have three or four crossings over a river if one or two of them would suffice?”

Fitzner said the province is also hoping that Ottawa’s $14-billion infrastructure program – the Building Canada Fund in last year’s budget – will add to budgets for roads and bridges.

In the meantime, he estimates the province is about $100 million a year short of what’s needed to keep its highways and crossings in good condition.

“It’s going to remain a challenge just because of the financial position of the province,” he said.


*With files from Michael Tutton – The Canadian Press

On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn



FACTBOX – Crossing the Bridge


Seal Creek Bridge (timber)

– serious condition

– Inspection report comments: "Bearing timbers on piers two and three continue to deteriorate and progressively get worse on pier three." (2012 report)

– scheduled for repairs in 2014



Sheriff Brook Bridge (timber)

– poor condition

– Inspection report comments: "The bearing timber at the west end is severely decaying on the inside and the bottom has wide checks and is deforming as the piles are pinching and pushing up into the bearing timber." (2013 report)

– scheduled for repairs in 2014


G Sutherland Bridge (timber)

– poor condition

– Inspection report comments: "Rotted and moving abutments. No approach rails." (2013 report)

– scheduled for replacement in 2016


Matheson Bridge (timber)

– poor condition

– Inspection report comments: "Timber cap at the north abutment has rolled back on the piles and has a 2.2 metre long split on the bottom starting at the east end." (2012 report)

– scheduled for repairs in 2014


Six Mile Brook Bridge (timber)

– poor condition

– Inspection report comments: "Approximately one half of the timber guard rails are missing. Girder No. 11 has a long crack at midspan for three metres." (2012 report)

– scheduled for replacement in 2014


*Source: Michael Tutton - The Canadian Press

Organizations: Canadian Press, River John, Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Transportation Department Trans-Canada Highway Building Canada Fund

Geographic location: Pictou County, Halifax, Kings Cape Breton Margaree River Ottawa Seal Creek

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Recent comments

  • Raymond roach jr.
    March 18, 2014 - 15:11

    Accountability? You people vote these people cause you think there good drinking buddies the rest don't vote just complain, buy everything cheapper on line drink and smoke the money away, the money made in PC leaves PC the money there barely covers there bills what's left is consul pay and salary! PC should be a ghost town the people are to greedy to join there economy and the ones that do are fighting a loosing battle! It 1000000 for 1 km of road that's a lot of pennies coming from gas so do you raise the fuel cost? Or do you take the money from health care? We hire politician in the beleive that they will do what's best with are money but everything is based of nessicity and there is no need for a change in our system it's a change in the people living in the system that needs to be changed education health care law enforcement fire protection other emergencies responders that are drawing 80 % of outr revenue! Canada's right now are paving every other countries roads to pay cheapper rates and this I turn is setting as back not ahead

  • Connie
    March 18, 2014 - 14:19

    That’s a decision made after assessment by an engineer,” he said That is a decision made after a car goes through i think.

  • westville resident
    March 17, 2014 - 20:20

    Really? 50 years of neglect has left these bridges in poor condition? Well what do we pay a road tax on our fuel for? Our roads are terrible and our bridges are dangerous as well as the rest of our aging neglected infrastructure. Maybe some accountability should be shown for the tax we pay on fuel. As the price if fuel rises so the the amount of tax dollars collected. Where does it go? How can there be cutbacks to a limitless amount of consumer generated tax revenue?