WHEREAS in the early to mid-2000s, a decision was made within Alberta Transportation to change the specifications for concrete to allow for light weight aggregate in bridge girders; and
WHEREAS there was a quality control issue with this concrete and it has resulted in premature deterioration of some bridge girders; and
WHEREAS municipalities are required to utilize the specifications set out by Alberta Transportation when undertaking bridge work, and do not have input into the specifications or any changes to said specifications; and
WHEREAS Alberta Transportation set the specifications and the change in aggregate was incorrectly accepted, or missed by Alberta Transportation, and therefore Alberta Transportation should be taking action to correct this situation; and
WHEREAS the Minister of Transportation has advised that Alberta Transportation is not interested in pursuing legal action against the concrete suppliers, and the cost of repairing and/or replacing these deteriorating bridge girders places a considerable cost on municipalities with multiple bridges affected; and
WHEREAS the safety of the travelling public could be severely impacted by any failure of a bridge structure on either highways or municipal roadways;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta urge the Government of Alberta to establish a program for financial assistance, over and above current Strategic Transportation Infrastructure Program funding, to municipalities that manage bridges affected by the premature deterioriation of “SC” light weight bridge girders.
The issue of these light weight concrete girders first came to the attention of municipalities in early 2017 at which time the RMA was involved in a steering committee tasked with resolving this issue. The steering committee was focused on providing oversight on the engineering assessment of a cross – section of the impacted bridges to determine the cause of the premature deterioration.
The Association’s involvement in the steering committee ended in the spring of 2017. When the engineering assessments were complete, Alberta Transportation advised the committee that they would weigh legal options internally. Since that time the Minister has advised that the department has no plans to pursue legal action on the matter and that Alberta Transportation “would not have been party to any such contracts for bridges managed by municipalities, and the standard girder design as specified by the department at that time was not the cause of the problem that has arisen.
Any legal action would be required to start within two years of the issue coming to light, and as it was identified in January 2017, that time limit has passed.
Minister Mason stated at the 2018 Fall convention that the department “is open to continuing discussions with municipalities to find a solution.” Since that time all requests for assistance have been met with the department’s stance that they are not responsible for this issue and municipalities are able to proceed with legal action should they wish.
The County of Northern Lights is not looking to undertake legal action against any contractor as it is not faulty work, but rather faulty material approved by the department.
The County of Northern Lights has five of the 36 affected bridges, second only to Alberta Transportation’s nine. One of these bridges is located on our busiest resource road leading from several gravel pits, and it is currently rated as a two.
We believe this issue needs to be viewed similar to a product recall where the public’s safety is in danger. The issue is more about preserving public confidence
in a time where confidence in government is declining. There have been many news stories from around the world and within Canada, of bridge collapses. This leads to the public’s trust which has been shaken because they believed that the governments are protecting them from poor bridge construction practices, which can put lives at risk.
This issue requires a plan and dedicated funding to replace all the girders in the province that have this problem. This would be proactive and put the province ahead of the problem. If the problem is not addressed in 2019, there will likely be bridge closures and the public will then start paying attention to the depth and breadth of this problem. If municipal and provincial governments wait until then, any plan will truly be reactionary, and too late.
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RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
The “SC” girder was a standard concrete girder commonly used on provincial highway bridges and municipal road bridges between 1990 and 2007. In 2010, Alberta Transportation became aware of premature deterioration of some structures using these girders. By 2015, 36 of the 88 bridges (nine provincial and 27 municipal) of this type, built between 2003 and 2007, were showing unexpected signs of damage.
An engineering study of six representative sites was commissioned by Alberta Transportation and led by a steering committee, which included municipal government representatives. The findings of the study, which became available in January 2017, concluded that the lightweight aggregate used in the concrete for these girders was not freeze‑thaw resistant. Recommended solutions ranged from repairing and sealing the exterior girders to replacing all of the girders. Extrapolating the study’s recommendations to the 36 affected bridges was estimated to cost approximately $5.4 million ($1.2 million for Alberta Transportation and $4.2 million for the 15 affected municipalities). Aggregate testing reports, as required by contract specifications, were not delivered for any of the six bridges studied (this has been dealt with in the delivery of ongoing projects). The problem might have been identified sooner if these reports had been delivered. Following the study, Alberta Transportation considered several potential responses, including filing lawsuits with the courts; however, the department chose to not initiate any lawsuits related to its projects. After receiving legal advice, the department noted all parties involved (i.e., province, municipalities, company owners, and contractors) would have to seek legal advice and initiate any lawsuits independently.
Since all parties had a role in following (or confirming compliance with) the specification, and the link between the specification and the freeze-thaw issue is indirect, a lawsuit would likely be complicated.
Alberta Transportation shared the engineering study results with the affected municipalities, along with the department’s assessment of potential actions for the 27 municipal bridges. The department also published a bridge inspection bulletin that provided guidance on how to rate these girders and which maintenance options to recommend.
Alberta Transportation has not provided special consideration to the SC girder bridges within the Local Road Bridge Program (LRBP) component of the Strategic Transportation Infrastructure Program. It is important to note that the LRBP is considered as funding assistance only, and bridge and roadwork is the financial responsibility of each municipality.
The Government of Alberta response provides a summary of why legal action was not pursued. Alberta Transportation identifies the resources they developed and shared with affected municipalities to mitigate the effects of the deteriorating girders. Finally, Alberta Transportation confirms that there is no additional funding for the repair or replacement of the municipal SC girder bridges. RMA assigns this resolution a status of Intent Not Met and will continue to monitor resources available to municipalities to address the SC girder bridges.