Ontario needs a $2-billion investment over five years to adequately rehabilitate its inventory of 12,000 municipal bridges, according to a report released in November. There is no central provincial agency to ensure the bridges are inspected every two years, says the report by MMM Group, Thornhill, Ont., which urges the creation of such a body. The report also recommends proper accreditation of bridge inspectors and urges a comprehensive report identifying the most urgent repair needs. Many of the bridges are reaching the end of their life span and pose a risk to public safety, thanks to years of deferred maintenance, irregular inspections and lack of government insight as causes for that deterioration.

The report was commissioned by the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance, Toronto, an association of management and labor groups, which is vowing to lobby the province until the recommendations are acted upon.

"It won't gather dust. We shouldn't have to wait for a tragedy to occur," says alliance executive director Andy Manahan. The Sept. 2006 collapse of the Laval Quebec overpass that killed five people was the catalyst for the report, which was being prepared when the Minneapolis I-35 bridge collapsed. The $2 billion figure is an extrapolation of data provided by municipalities, he says.

Ontario's Ministry of Transportation used to keep records about the state of all bridges and was responsible for the inspection and rehabilitation of most municipal bridges until 1997, when it downloaded the responsibility to local governments. It is still responsible for the province's 2,800 provincial bridges. "We take input by our stakeholders seriously," said Ministry of Transportation spokesperson Bob Nicholls. Senior ministry officials are now studying the report, he says.

By law, all bridges are required to be inspected every two years. "But there has been some slippage [in the inspections]," notes Manahan.

A single bridge requiring several millions dollars can overwhelm a small municipality. While there have been several federal and provincial government infrastructure funding initiatives, most are one-time programs that don't give local governments the ability to plan long-term work, he says. Municipalities have free access to the province's bridge management software, which allows them to flag bridges for inspection. In 2006 the province provided $400 million to municipalities for road and bridge work and allocated another $25 million this year under various grant programs, says Nicholls.