It only took a single crack in a structural girder to spark months of weight restrictions, lane closures and $4.2 million in repairs.
Although a 2010 inspection let the city know that the Diefenbaker bridge needed millions of dollars in repairs, the crack opened up a more urgent can of worms, sparking the city’s biggest ongoing news item of the year.
The following is a timeline of what took place, as the Daily Herald reported, from the discovery of the crack on Aug. 30, 2011, to today.
Aug. 28, 2011 – Crack found
While canoeing under the Diefenbaker bridge on Aug. 28, 2011, Dr. Randy Friesen noticed a crack on one of the bridge’s structural girders.
Aug. 30 – Lane closure
Two of the Diefenbaker bridge’s four lanes were closed on Aug. 30, with then-mayor Jim Scarrow calling a press conference that day.
Scarrow referred to the situation as “serious but not dangerous.”
City manager Robert Cotterill noted that bridge inspections are done every two years, and that the latest one, done in April, 2010, didn’t show a crack on the 50-year-old bridge.
A bridge inspection was arranged for later that day to determine whether a weight restriction was necessary.
Aug. 31 – Weight restriction
With a determination on whether the structural integrity of the bridge was still adequate, a tentative weight restriction of 15,000 kilograms was instated for “several days.” The southbound lanes remained closed.
"If the weight restriction stays in effect for too long it would be crippling to the transportation industry (in the region) as a whole," Ridsdale Transport Ltd. manager Dana Dirks said at the time.
Sept. 6 – Police enforcement
Additional police officers to enforce weight restrictions were costing the city about $6,000 to $7,000 per day, Cotterill said during a city council meeting.
Sgt. Kelly McLean said that tickets written for being overweight were between just more than $4,000 and about $13,000.
Sept. 8 – Government response
During a chamber of commerce luncheon, Prince Albert Carlton MLA Darryl Hickie addressed Diefenbaker bridge issues, noting that the government was committed to assisting the city with the cost of repairs.
A second bridge is “inevitable,” he said, but a timeline had yet to be determined.
Sept. 14 – Second Bridge talk heats up
"As the city has grown, the north has grown and the province has had this economic boom, so the talk has become more frequent and earnest," Scarrow said of discussion around a second bridge.
Saskatchewan NDP’s then-leader Dwain Lingenfelter, and Prince Albert Northcote’s then-MLA Darcy Furber, both encouraged the construction of a second bridge, with Lingenfelter promising the province to pay for 50 per cent of the cost, if elected.
Sept. 15 – Provincial funding
The Saskatchewan Party announced that 100 per cent of the Diefenbaker bridge repair costs will be covered under their Urban Highway Connector Program.
"We hope within the next week to be able to state that we can take weight restrictions off the bridge, and then they'll be designing the repair," Cotterill said.
The city, RM of Buckland and RM of Prince Albert and the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure were preparing to meet to hash out plans for a study on a second bridge.
"The city of P.A. is growing and when the growth is here, the province will be here. When there's a need for a second bridge, we'll step up to the plate," then-highways minister Jim Reiter said.
Sept. 27 – Constraint induced fracture
The cause of the crack was determined to have been a constraint-induced fracture, Cotterill said during a press conference.
These cracks are difficult to spot, he said, noting that this is why it took so long to discover.
Oct. 11 – wide loads
Although they still had to weight under 15,000 kilograms, beginning Oct. 11, wide loads were allowed over the bridge between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. daily, provided they’d made an appointment.
Early Nov. – Work begins
Work at the Diefenbaker bridge began.
"Our ultimate goal is to get the bridge jacked in place, take the piece of steel (girder) out and rebuild the girder and complete all that and open the bridge by Christmas," Cotterill said on Oct. 27.
Oct. 31 – Sign
Plunked down on each end of the Diefenbaker bridge, the Saskatchewan NDP displayed signs advertising their promise of a second bridge, pledging $50 million if elected.
"The Saskatchewan Party and Mr. Wall and Mr. Hickie have said a second bridge for Prince Albert is irresponsible and reckless spending, we disagree entirely," Furber said.
Lingenfelter promised a second bridge within their four-year term, if elected, he announced during a press conference outside the bridge the following day.
Nov. 2 – Wall responds
Responding to the Saskatchewan NDP’s promise of a second bridge, Premier Brad Wall commented during a chamber of commerce luncheon in Prince Albert.
"The NDP promised a bridge, " he said. "It's a $100-million bridge, but Stephen Harper will look at the other $50 million. "
Having met with Harper in the past, Wall said, "He never mentioned to me that he's helping with the NDP platform. Half a bridge is no bridge at all.”
The government’s set on repairing the current bridge, he said.
Nov. 15 – “Arbitrary” restrictions
"At the end of the day, what people don't realize is our bridge sunk an inch and a half,” then-councillor Greg Dionne said, responding to claims that weight restrictions were arbitrary. “If it had have sunk three inches, it would be closed. ...I'm interested in getting that inch and a half secured. We only have one bridge."
Dec. 19 – Live load testing
With repairs ongoing up to and including this point, the Diefenbaker bridge closed periodically on Dec. 19 for live load testing.
Dec. 21 – All lanes open
Content with live load testing, all four lanes of the Diefenbaker bridge opened, though weight restrictions of 15,000 kilograms remained in place.
Welds on approximately 300 potential constraint induced fracture locations were poorly done, Cotterill said, with additional work needed.
Jan. 13 – STC
The Saskatchewan Transportation Company has come up with a number of solutions to dealing with weight restrictions, spokesperson Deanna Bergbusch told the Daily Herald.
Initially, two buses on either side of the bridge were set up, with a smaller vehicle transporting passengers the length of the bridge.
Later on, trips were re-routed, adding an additional hour-and-a-half to certain trips.
If the weight restriction stays in effect for too long it would be crippling to the transportation industry (in the region) as a whole. - Ridsdale Transport Ltd. manager Dana Dirks said on August 31, 2011. More than six months of weight restrictions followed.
Feb. 14 – weight limit increased
At midnight, the Diefenbaker bridge’s weight limit was increased to 47,000 kilograms. The reduced speed limit of 40 km/h remained in place.
March 8 – Primary weight reinstated
At midnight, the Diefenbaker bridge’s primary weight of 63,500 kilograms was reinstated, but the 40 km/h speed limit would remain.
"Damage to the bridge structure is intensified by speed when large vehicles pass over the bridge," Cotterill said.
March 15 – Wall responds
During a dinner in his honour in Prince Albert, Premier Brad Wall again addressed the city’s alleged need for a second bridge.
"We know about the demand and interest in a new bridge in Prince Albert, and as we know about the demands for infrastructure across the province. We're trying to weigh all that within a balanced budget context."
March 20 – Build a Second Bridge Campaign
The City of Prince Albert launched its Build a Second Bridge Campaign, headed by Mayor Jim Scarrow.
The Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce joined early on as a partner, with then-chair Doug Patrick having heard of businesses losing between $2,000 and $50,000 per month -- a cost impossible to pass on to the customer.
March 30 – New North
New North, representing 35 communities in northern Saskatchewan, joined the city’s Build a Second Bridge Campaign.
May 10 – PAGC
The Prince Albert Grand Council joined the Build a Second Bridge Campaign.
"A lot of our First Nations depend on what we buy (in Prince Albert) for our stores, for our schools, and so on so forth, so when the (Diefenbaker bridge) wasn't up there was a feeling from our administrators that things were ... getting more expensive," Chief Ron Michel said.
June 12 – Toll booth?
Coun. Lee Atkinson, during a City Council meeting, suggested administration look into a toll booth at the Diefenbaker bridge.
"It's been offered in a jocular way from time to time, that we should have a toll... but I think this would be a serious undertaking, one that we shouldn't ignore," Scarrow responded.
July 10 – Lane closures
Sporadic lane closures started up again to accommodate ongoing repair work, which wouldn’t end until December.
Lane closures have to take place during the summer, Cotterill said during a press conference the following week.
"It's pretty hard to do in the winter -- some of the stuff we have to do,” he said.
Aug. 13 – Wall responds
During a press conference in Prince Albert, Premier Brad Wall was asked about the city’s alleged need for a second bridge.
"I hope the people of Prince Albert see that as a government we understand the importance of that bridge,” he said.
"We're looking at innovative ways to maybe be able to fund those -- perhaps, through private-public partnerships, but first we're going to check on feasibility."
Sept. 10 – Frustration
City council responded to frustration regarding long lineups at the Diefenbaker bridge during the Labour Day long weekend due to lane closures.
Scarrow said that this is exactly why a second bridge is needed.
"This is an old bridge and while the repairs are being made at cost to the provincial government, there were people that were an hour-and-a-half in that lineup some five or six kilometres north of the city trying to get across the bridge, and in 2012 that's not acceptable."
Nov. 16 – Bridge campaign lives
After his successful campaign for the mayor’s seat, Greg Dionne said that the Build a Second Bridge Campaign is alive and well, with 1,500 letters and signatures.
"I have no problem taking the bridge campaign and delivering it to the premier in Regina, because lots of people worked hard on that campaign and believed it was the right thing to do," Dionne said.
Late Nov. – NDP debates
Throughout the tail end of the fall session, the Saskatchewan NDP forced several discussions on the Diefenbaker bridge in the legislative assembly.
Local Saskatchewan Party MLAs Darryl Hickie and Victoria Jurgens cited a bridge report they were waiting on before providing comment, as well as the province’s ongoing commitment to pay for all Diefenbaker bridge repairs.
Late Dec. – Repairs done
By late December, all bridge repairs were done and all lanes were permanently re-opened.
Jan. 10 – Bridge report
The long-awaited bridge report noted that a second North Saskatchewan River crossing is unnecessary at this time, sparking criticism of the Saskatchewan Party.
The bridge report states that weight and width restrictions at the Diefenbaker bridge cost the provincial economy $14.2 million during the first six months of restrictions.
Mayor Greg Dionne has noted that the Build a Second Bridge Campaign will still be shared in legislature and that a meeting will be called with various stakeholders to plan a course of action.
At this stage, it’s all up to convincing the provincial government to make a move, he said.
On Monday, city council will consider a motion by Coun. Lee Atkinson to endorse a location for a second bridge, of which the bridge report cites two east of the city.
Dionne, Saskatchewan NDP deputy leader of the opposition Buckley Belanger and others have since encouraged taxpayers to ask their local Sask. Party MLAs to say something about what they see to be a second bridge need.
As of Friday afternoon, the Daily Herald waited for response on the bridge report from MLAs Darryl Hickie and Victoria Jurgens.
“I pray that the government of Saskatchewan … doesn’t hide behind this report and say ‘we’re turning our backs on P.A.’” Coun. Don Cody said after the bridge report came out.
He said that he hopes that the area’s four Sask. Party MLAs are on board with the second bridge need, and that just because a report says something doesn’t mean the government has to follow suit.
“I’d be weary if I were them, if they’re not on the bridge bandwagon.”