In a report issued July 21, the Auditor General of Manitoba found problems in how the province’s 3,000 bridges and large culverts are being managed.
Auditor General Norm Ricard reviewed the processes being used by Manitoba Infrastructure for structural inspections, as well as for capital planning, and for quality assurance in construction.
The audit was of bridges and large culverts in roads and in waterways, many of which are over 50 years old. Ricard’s report included 20 recommendations.
First, he found that not all the bridges were being inspected as often as necessary, and 616 structures, mostly large culverts in the waterway system, were not being inspected at all. Another 288 structures were not being inspected by Manitoba Infrastructure because it considered other government departments or conservation districts were responsible for them.
Ricard also found that even when bridges and their components were being inspected often enough there were problems. The inspectors only provided documentation when the condition was pronounced to be “poor.” In cases where the bridge structures were found to be fair, good or excellent, there was inadequate documentation. When a bridge was rated as “fair,” this was especially problematic, because managers could not tell if the elements of the bridge needed work.
Another problem was that senior managers at Manitoba Infrastructure were not following up on the inspection reports to see if necessary action was carried out. The audit found that basic maintenance work that the inspectors had recommended was often waivered or deferred.
When it came to capital planning, the audit found that plans were not supported by adequate risk assessments, so that “Manitoba Infrastructure could not clearly show that structures most in need of work were being prioritized and that it was making use of its limited funding.
Quality assurance in bridge construction was also lacking. The audit found that only 81% of projects had contractor submittals showing that the project was meeting the specifications. And of that 81% “only about half of these had some evidence showing that engineers had reviewed them.” Furthermore, the on-site inspections were not using Manitoba Infrastructure’s checklists for doing this work.
The province’s Infrastructure Minister, Blaine Pedersen, responded the same day, blaming the previous government, which stepped down in May. “This report indicates that under the previous administration, critical infrastructure was allowed to erode and bridge safety was potentially compromised,” said Pedersen.
Pedersen said the government was already working to implement the recommendations, and that it would be competing approximately 920 Level 2 inspections in 2016-2017.
Among the 20 recommendations in the Auditor’s report for how the Department of Infrastructure should tighten its regime, one of the first is that the Department should amend its process for selecting external service providers (i.e. consulting engineers). The government department should assess any recent experience it had with these firms’ bridge inspection work, said Recommendation 3.
Recommendation 6 said that the Department should make sure that all internal — and external — bridge inspectors are receiving adequate training to meet current needs.
To read the Auditor’s report and recommendations, click here.