Holes straight through the floor of a bridge on a rural road northeast of Lethbridge is just part of the reason it was closed to traffic. It’s symptomatic of a much larger problem: aging infrastructure.
The county’s bridge inspection foreman says it’s the increased usage and weight of trucks and equipment that are degrading the roads and bridges.
“These tractor trailer units are getting larger and we are a fairly intense county here, with feed lot operations and our grain and all that,” Dario Colmo said. “It’s putting an enormous amount of pressure on these bridge that were built back in the 50s and 60s.”
County Reeve Lorne Hickey says there are 166 bridges in the county, with over 2,000 kilometers of road that need maintenance and reconstruction.
“We have an infrastructure deficit in the county of about $250 million. We are looking at ways to improve the infrastructure.”
Lethbridge County has the largest concentration of animals in the province and is significantly larger in agricultural production than any other area in Alberta. Now, the heavy traffic is starting to leave its mark.
“We have lobbied in the past, both the provincial and the federal governments, to no avail,” Hickey said. “The only way out, unfortunately in this situation, is to look at those people who use the infrastructure the most.”
The county is considering a per-animal levy – a tax essentially – for major feed-lot producers. Hickey says it would be the first of its kind in the province.
“That may not be the solution we come up with. It may be a combination of things.
“It may be per-animal unit or it may be based on the actual use of the road. We are right in the stage of producing something that will work for both worlds.”
The levy would not be limited to cattle; other sectors like sugar beets, potatoes and grains will also be considered.
County officials are now holding round-table discussions with producers to look at options to reverse the infrastructure deficit. They will continue the round-table discussions throughout 2016.
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