It's not surprising to come across talking points from the Ontario Liberal government in the Toronto Star or the Globe and Mail, but I was gobsmacked the other day to come across them in the construction news: On-Site Magazine, which proudly boasts that it's been Canada's construction magazine since 1957. The reasonably titled article, Research Council to Examine Broken Bridge Bolts, is ostensibly about finding out why the brand-spanking new Nipigon River Bridge failed, but deeper in the article the truth begins to reach far more than the cables of this bridge could ever stretch.
I have a bit of a thing for bridge news because in my teen years I worked for a bridge painting company on far flung bridges up north, and this bridge caught my attention because I crossed in twice last fall, first in October on my way out to Vancouver, when the bridge wasn't fully open to traffic yet, and again in December on my way home after it had opened. There are a several of these cable-stayed bridges in the lower mainland of BC, and other than some early ice shedding problems that broke a lot of windshields one week, they seem to work well.
The big news was that on January 10th during a cold snap, the deck on one side of the bridge lifted two feet, creating quite a ramp for one direction of traffic and a undercarriage ripping metal barrier for the other. This resulted in the temporary closure of the brand new bridge, and so far they've only been able to reopen one lane by piling thousands of pounds of concrete barriers in the closed lane to weight the bridge back down into place.
With words like "Embarrassing" in the headlines of some articles, the Ontario government went into spin mode and came up with some talking points, and they're all here in On-Site Magazine.
1) "...the bridge lifted in extremely high winds..."
Most of the articles about this bridge hardly mention the 70 kph winds because they're not unusual or extreme on the north shore of the biggest lake on the continent, Lake Superior. This bridge is less than 5 kilometres up river from Nipigon Bay. But the Liberals are fond of carbon taxes, which they say we need because climate change is making the weather more extreme. Here's the talking point: it's not bad engineering or bad Liberal oversight that caused the bridge to fail, it's global warming! Interestingly, the On-Site article doesn't mention that temperature had plummeted to -30 C. That's not extreme for Nipigon either, but it just sounds too cold for global warming. Any engineer can tell you that metal contracts and gets brittle in the cold, and this probably has more to do with the cable-stayed bridge heaving (and staying up) than the wind. But the Liberals don't want to remind Ontarians that we still enjoy very cold winters. It might make us think that we don't need carbon taxes.
2)"The $106-million project is still under construction…The westbound side was opened to two-lane traffic in November last year"
Wow! These lines taken together give the impression that the bridge isn’t finished and maybe they just opened the two lanes too soon. The bridge is complete. They had an opening ceremony and everything. The project isn’t complete because construction on a second bridge has yet to begin under a plan to twin highway 11. Eventually one bridge will handle eastbound traffic and one westbound, but this bridge is complete! It failed less than two months after opening. So here's the talking point: make it sound like it’s still under construction, implying that it didn’t fail two months after opening, which sounds like someone really messed up. It's just part of a work-in-progress. It'll all get sorted out when the "project" is complete. Of course the old bridge, partially demolished, stood without a problem since 1933, and it didn’t fail just after opening.
3) "No one was injured but the crossing was closed for almost a day, which severed the Trans-Canada Highway and “cut Canada in half,” said a local politician."