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City councillor says Dufferin Bridge was safe despite engineers’ warnings

ABOVE: Councillor Gord Perks says the now-closed Dufferin bridge was safe despite engineers’ warnings. Jackson Proskow reports. 

Although the Dufferin Bridge was closed down in an “emergency situation” in June, Toronto city councillor Gord Perks insists that staff acted appropriately and that public safety was never at risk.

Reacting to a Global News investigation which revealed reports going back to 2008 recommending that the bridge be immediately rehabilitated, Perks defended the city’s decision to keep the bridge open until the spring of 2013.

“The system worked, people’s safety was looked after from start to finish,” he said. The Dufferin Bridge, which spans the rail corridor and the Gardiner Expressway just north of Exhibition Place, is located in Perks’ ward of Parkdale-High Park.
Perks pointed to a November 2012 inspection of the bridge, which stated that it was in “fair condition.”

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“The one time that that firm was asked, not for a general opinion, but in your professional engineering opinion, put your stamp on a document, ‘Is this bridge safe?’ That firm said in 2012, yes this bridge is safe,” he said.

Read the full investigation

However, there were several engineering reports before the 2012 report stating that the bridge was in need of immediate repair. In 2008 for example, consultants warned that the bridge deck was in such poor repair that there was even a hole all the way through the concrete to the asphalt above. In order to keep the bridge open for two to five more years, they said, it was necessary to completely replace the bridge deck.

“The little hole that your news station aired on television is more similar to a pothole than it is to any kind of structural element being at risk,” said Perks.

The 2008 report said differently: “We would expect that in the worst case scenario for the existing deck, a large hole could open up in the deck; however, it is extremely unlikely that a vehicle would fall through that hole, though it would be severely damaged.”

City staff confirmed to Global News that the hole identified in 2008 was never repaired. “The asphalt was repaired but not the concrete below. The hole was very small and not considered to be a concern,” wrote city spokesperson Steve Johnston.

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A 2009 report recommended replacing the bridge with a temporary structure until such time as construction could begin on a new, improved permanent Dufferin Bridge. However, the temporary bridge was never installed. City staff could not explain why, in an interview with Global News.

The 2009 reports also recommended setting limits on the weights of vehicles which could use the bridge, as well as performing some rehabilitation work if the bridge was to remain open for any length of time. Although the city did set weight limits, only small repairs to the deck were completed.

Timeline: The Dufferin Bridge

In 2011, a city auditor wondered why recommended rehabilitation work was never completed. In an email exchange obtained by Global News as a result of a freedom of information request, the auditor wrote to Technical Services, “Since this rehabilitation has not been completed or a temporary bridge has not been installed, I was hoping you could tell me what Technical Services has done and will be doing in the meantime to ensure that this bridge will be safe until such time as it can be replaced.”

Vic Zubacs, at the time a senior engineer for Structures and Expressways, replied, “The same consultant also recommended that the bridge could be maintained with a load limit.” Zubacs, like many of the individuals who worked on this project, is no longer employed by the City.

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His statement contradicts the conclusions of the 2009 reports. “Findings from structural evaluations and visual inspections confirmed the need for an immediate rehabilitation of the existing Dufferin Street Overpass at CNR Mile 2.38 Oakville Subdivision to ensure that the existing structure remains safe for the continued use,” it reads.

Provincial politicians also responded to Global News’ findings on the Dufferin Bridge.

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath said that the provincial government might have a role in overseeing municipal infrastructure.
“It comes up at the association of municipalities all the time,” she said. “They’re in fact trying to encourage the government of Ontario to set out some standards of maintenance and replacement that all municipalities would be responsible to live up to. I don’t think that’s such a bad idea.”

PC Transportation and Infrastructure critic Frank Klees agreed. “There is clearly a provincial interest here. We have passenger trains that are implicated in this. There are a lot of reasons why the province of Ontario is irresponsible if they don’t in fact take the initiative on this, sit down with the city of Toronto and say let’s get this done.”

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