“We’re inspecting it on a frequent basis, so it is safe. We don’t want the public to think that our bridges aren’t safe … The bridge is in our five-year plan for major upgrades.”
<*R><BIt-6>— Ruth Eden, Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation,
“It’s important to do it now from a straight engineering point of view … When engineers tell us a project should be a priority, we listen.”
— Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, March 13, 2014
There’s some political gamesmanship afoot in Manitoba, and it’s coming at the potential expense of this city’s priorities and our access to federal government funding.
On Thursday, Brandon learned that repairs to the First Street bridge would have to come before the rehabilitation of the Daly Overpass on 18th Street, at the behest of provincial engineers.
It has been determined that the bridge deck needs to be replaced and girders need to be reinforced.
The announcement, made by Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, apparently surprised the heck out of local city officials, and even — it appears — the only Brandon politician who could possibly have known about it, Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell.
Caldwell, for his part, said he did not know “the serious nature” of the First Street bridge until Thursday.
First of all, let’s address the obvious problem here. The First Street bridge was identified years ago as in need of major repair, and in August 2012, Ruth Eden with Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation told the Sun that the plan for the First Street bridge included redoing the deck and replacing the railing entirely. She also said that provincial engineers would be looking at the steel girders under the bridge to see what needed to be done to them, “to get another 40 years out of it.”
Nearly two years later, the urgency of this project should not have come as a surprise. But it did.
Remember that list of infrastructure priorities the city forwarded to the federal government last year in anticipation of the New Building Canada Plan, just before Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Merv Tweed resigned? Somehow, the First Street bridge project fell off the city’s radar by that point, and it never made our city’s priority list.
Why that happened, only our city municipal politicians can answer.
Be that as it may, in the year or so that we and the city have been talking about Brandon’s infrastructure priorities, apparently this little project never came up for debate in talks between city staff and the provincial government.
How can that be?
We can’t and don’t expect politicians at any level of government to fully comprehend every minute detail of the infrastructure needs of a given community — that’s what engineering and transportation departments are for. But we can wonder why said departments weren’t consulted earlier. You’d think this little detail would have come up before last year’s budget speech when the province announced a pending partnership with Brandon to rebuild the Daly Overpass.
And speaking of timing, it sure would have been nice to know that the First Street bridge was a provincial priority before Brandon-Souris Conservative Larry Maguire held his little get-together at the East End Community Centre on Thursday morning — Selinger’s presser was held in the late afternoon.
Maguire had invited Peter Braid, the parliamentary secretary for infrastructure and communities to Brandon, to impress upon him the infrastructure needs of Brandon, and the riding. Prior to the meeting of community minds, Braid and Maguire toured the airport and the Daly Overpass — but not the First Street bridge.
About 25 local leaders then attended the meeting that followed, including the mayor, city manager, city treasurer, among other city officials, as well as Brandon West Progressive Conservative MLA Reg Helwer, and — of course — our link to the NDP government, Mr. Caldwell.
There is absolutely no doubt in our minds that the provincial government was aware that Caldwell would attend the Thursday meeting with Maguire and Braid. But then why wait until after that meeting to announce a change of priorities? Had the information been out in the open prior to that meeting, the tone and direction of the meeting would have necessarily changed.
We can only assume the province wanted to make Maguire look foolish, and playing Caldwell for a similar fool must have been seen as acceptable collateral damage.
But we’re not much interested in the who burned which political bridge and when. These are real bridges we’re worried about. And we’d prefer our politicians stick to the straight and narrow when they talk about them.