UPDATE: Fall-out and follow-ups from our Hazeldean bridge report

On Monday, we published a copy of a report on structural problems with the Hazeldean Road bridge, obtained via a Freedom of Information request.

The story spawned quite a bit of attention and feedback, including a follow-up article from David Reevely published on the front page of Tuesday’s Ottawa Citizen.

“The bridge isn’t meant to do anything very complicated. It’s not very long or very high and it doesn’t curve. The ground’s a bit soft. But there doesn’t appear to be any great engineering challenge there, just a seemingly routine piece of work,” wrote Reevely. “…Designing bridges that don’t fall down is one of the [engineering] profession’s founding obligations.”

He also asked the City of Ottawa’s media department if anyone could comment on what the municipality has learned from the Hazeldean bridge experience.  He tweeted their response:


That response was echoed by Councillor Shad Qadri in his weekly newsletter:

“It is important to note that following reviews of the Hazeldean Bridge and Airport Parkway Pedestrian Bridge, Infrastructure Services implemented guidelines requiring a mandatory, independent review of all bridge designs and other major structural projects to enhance oversight and identify potential concerns. In addition, staff with structural engineering expertise were put in place to support the third party reviews and value engineering on these projects. They also provide guidance with regards to structural projects. Recent examples where the enhanced oversight has been applied are the Adawé Crossing that opened late last year and the new Rideau Canal pedestrian and cycling bridge at Fifth and Clegg that is in the design phase.”

Qadri also addressed why a Freedom of Information Request was required to obtain the report:

“The report was subject to the MFIPPA or the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Because of this, the report as well as its contents could not be shared with the public unless given direct permission through an Access to Information request.

As a result, when the City received a follow-up inquiry specific to the cause of the bridge failure, they did indicate that an investigation into the causes had been conducted, and that there was a report that was subject to the MFIPPA.

Both inquiries were responded to accurately and appropriately given the context of their request.”

Stittsville resident Neil Barrett wrote a letter to the Citizen calling for the City to review its engineering practices:

Over and over, the city is accepting sub-standard engineering designs, without a design check process to reveal errors. As a result, the errors are only discovered during construction, exposing the city to great financial, legal and schedule costs.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In the world of shipbuilding, it is a universal practice to engage the services of another, independent design agent to scrutinize all the major engineering assumptions made in the design, and to perform enough calculations to ensure the integrity of the design before the project is released for construction bidding.

Had this process been followed, the Hazeldean Bridge design would have been altered before construction started, thus saving a lot of money and avoiding risk. Why is the city not insisting that engineering designs be subjected to the rigours of a design check before accepting designs for construction?

Blogger Ken Gray criticized the city for what he called a cover-up of the report:

“The City of Ottawa was withholding critical information from the public which pays for the City of Ottawa because the municipality screwed up. And not only was the information covered up, but information critical to the safety of the citizens of Ottawa was squelched. This from what is supposed to be a democracy. People could have been killed on the Hazeldean bridge had the bridge not done the right thing … sagged when no one was using it… The City of Ottawa lies, ignores, covers-up, patronizes and practices a kind of incompetence that is mind-wobbling. And it takes a journalist from a little newspaper in Stittsville to discover the Hazeldean mess.”

We have a reporter working on a few follow-up angles for this story. Stay tuned…



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