More on the Smith bridge question

You probably read about the info session the M.D. of Lesser Slave River held on Jan. 12 on the Smith bridge situation. In the audience was a representative of Alberta Transportation.

Pointing him out, one of the M.D. people at the meeting urged your Leader reporter to ask the fellow a pointed question about why the province had decided to push off bridge replacement for a few more years.

It’s a good question. The bridge – as we keep hearing – is in bad shape and getting worse. As the engineers said (more than once) in their presentation at the Jan. 12 meeting, it has reached the end of its effective life, or words to that effect.

So why did the province decide it could hang on another five or 10 years?

That’s what we asked the guy. What he told us was that because the M.D. did some repairs on it, the government was able to extend its life.

That’s not the kind of thing the M.D. wants to hear. The longer the replacement is put off, the more repairs will be needed to keep the bridge open. The last thing the M.D. (or anyone else) wants, is to have to shut it down for safety reasons. The M.D. is scared to death of that scenario, and rightly so. Perhaps not quite as scared as they are of some disaster happening, such as bridge failure when a vehicle is on it – but a close second, for sure.

But just from the financial point of view, the longer this drags on, the more the M.D. will have to spend on costly emergency repairs, whether grants are available for them or not. Because they can’t afford to lose the use of the bridge. But if the province feels free to push off the replacement year for the bridge every time repairs are done……?

It’s like trying to coax a few thousand more kilometres out of an old vehicle. At some point you have to bite the bullet, before you go broke doing repairs.

Of course the province knows this. At any time, the government is facing a multitude of urgent infrastructure demands, and must prioritize them. Little ol’ Smith, thanks to small population and relatively small traffic counts, gets shoved down the list. Apparently (so says the reeve, at any rate) once upon a time the bridge over the Athabasca at Smith was third on the provincial priority list for replacement. Now it can’t even be found on the list.

Meanwhile, tens of millions of dollars worth (to provincial coffers) of industrial resource extraction goes on in the region north of Smith.

What’s it going to take?

Seventy-eight years ago, it took the threat of a Japanese invasion of Alaska to induce the powers-that-be to build the bridge in the first place. Hopefully it won’t take something as drastic to stir our government into action.

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