The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (DTIR) deserves criticism for its inability to repair the Lennox Passage Lift Bridge before the start of the boating season.
Recently, Lennox Passage Yacht Club commodore Teddy Poirier said he was told by Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon that the only span to Isle Madame is still not able to open for vessels.
Without any tenders from the DTIR, Poirier said it’s hard to see how any work will be finished on time with less than a month go to before the start of the season.
Poirier said he received calls last December from boaters in the United States and New Brunswick curious about the state of the bridge and whether it will be ready.
Aside from his group, Poirier said local restaurants like the Groundswell in D’Escousse, and local stores, as well as groups like the St. Peter’s Marina, will all suffer if boats are unable to pass through.
The department responded that the bridge has experienced ongoing issues with the lift span. Temporary repairs have been completed on the lift deck, but the bridge will not be able to accommodate all marine traffic until more permanent repairs take place. With an 18-foot clearance capacity at high tide and a 24-foot clearance at low tide, smaller sailboats and fishing boats will be able to pass under the bridge, according to the DTIR.
While maintaining that the bridge remains safe for motorists, the DTIR plans to issue a tender soon and conduct work this summer. Work will include repairs to the deck, steel work underneath the bridge, structural, concrete and mechanical repairs, and a replacement of the joints.
Given the amount of work required, the fact that the bridge has been in disrepair for months, and the importance of the span to motorists, fishermen, groups, businesses, and boaters, this work should have been tendered and started weeks ago.
Back on January 10, the DTIR confirmed that the speed limit on the bridge was reduced to 20 kilometres an hour to reduce the impact to the bridge until the joints were repaired. The DTIR explained at the time that they noticed increased vibrations coming from one of the joints on the bridge platform.
Problems continued with the span into the spring, as a rear-end collision on the span on April 27 was blamed on the lack of proper signage warning motorists to reduce their speed because there were continuing issues with the bridge joints.
The work prescribed by the department is detailed, complicated work that will take time, so it is inconceivable that the DTIR would wait so long to even issue a tender and get it underway.
Then there is the inevitably negative impact on tourism; if visitors don’t feel welcome or are not provided adequate infrastructure while here, they will either not return or not recommend this area to others.
In addition to the cost to local boat clubs and marinas, this also will hurt local stores, restaurants and other businesses, by forcing boaters to take alternate routes, completely by-passing this area with their tourist dollars.
The biggest reason to get this work started and completed as soon as possible is that this bridge is the only link between Isle Madame and the rest of Cape Breton Island. The safety, social, economic, and practical reasons to have a reliable, fully working bridge to serve an island of more than 3,000 people are obvious.
While time has passed and that can’t be helped, there is still time to salvage this boating season with a timely issuing of tenders and an immediate start to work.
Otherwise, the province is badly failing the many people who rely on this bridge.