Public Works Minister Colonel David Burch informed MPs on Friday, that the Swing Bridge down at the east end will have to be replaced within the next five years.

Coupled with the Long Bird Bridge, which was condemned several years ago, he said both bridges have outlived their 50-year lifespans.

In fact, he said the Swing Bridge “is now 53 years old and 153 years old when considering the substructures”. But he said: “Long Bird Bridge is another story.

The “two single spans of Bailey bridge” were erected “to accommodate traffic as a temporary solution” in 2007. The Minister reminded MPs that the temporary solution was put in place ten years ago.

Earlier this year, the Ministry was forced to change deck plates due to accelerated corrosion on both bridges.

“In ordinary climate condition, these plates should last 25 years, but in Bermuda they lasted only ten years,” said Col Burch. While noting that Long Bird Bridge “is safe”, he said: “Its lifespan is similar to that of the Swing Bridge.”

And because of Bermuda’s ‘salt air’ he said: “Corrosion is a serious threat to the long-term function and integrity of a steel bridge. This is true for all bridges, but it is more serious in Bermuda where salt water and warm weather are the perfect storm to accelerate corrosion on a steel structure. Typically, lifespan for this type of bridge is around 50 years. Swing Bridge is now 53 years old and 153 years old when considering the substructures.

“Our latest studies on the Swing Bridge show that this bridge will have to be replaced within five years.

In a Ministerial statement on the state of the infrastructure of Bermuda’s bridges, he also disclosed that Ramboll UK Limited, was awarded a new $400,460 contract in August, after submitting the lowest bid when they “tendered a competitive price that was within 13 percent of the Works and Engineering estimate”.

Ramboll UK is “an award winning, experienced engineering company” that has “completed many successful bridge projects around the world”.

In all he said: “The contract was tendered in February this year to select an engineering company to provide six scenarios for the future of the bridges. For each bridge we asked for three movable and three non-movable options.

“Tender documents for this open tender process for the Phase I Feasibility Study were collected by five companies.

“As we speak the study is on time and on budget. The report will be presented to me on January 10th, 2018. Following this report, we will chose one option for each bridge and the best procurement methods for the construction – conventional, or design build, or other format to optimize quality and cost.

“We are weeks away from the year 2018, as such new technologies and materials are helping engineers build bridges better and faster, while also improving maintenance for longer bridge life,” he added.

Photograph by St George’s MP Renee Ming

While noting that Bermuda’s “Infrastructure is crucial”, especially “our roads and bridges” that “play a vital role in social development and economic growth for all Bermudians, he said: At all levels of government, a concerted effort has been made to reduce the number of structurally deficient bridges that require significant maintenance, rehabilitation, or replacement.”

Work was completed earlier this year “to extend its lifespan until 2021, but he said: “It is time to rebuild this essential piece of infrastructure. The other infrastructure that causes some concern for us is the Causeway and Long Bird Bridge.

The good news he said, was that the Causeway, which was opened to traffic in 1871, with civilian motor vehicles allowed in the late 1940s, is “sound” despite the fact that it “is an old structure”.

“Several inspections were performed on the Causeway and various scenarios were looked at to see what would be the best improvement, for both safety and investment for the taxpayer.

“Maintenance work needs to be done every year, but there is no structural or economical argument to support the construction of a new causeway,” he said.

“However, Long Bird Bridge is another story – it was condemned several years ago. Two single spans of Bailey bridge were erected to accommodate traffic as a temporary solution. This temporary solution was put in place in 2007.

As the Minister responsible for ensuring “the continued safe condition of Government-owned bridges”, he said: “The condition of both the Swing and Long Bird Bridges, combined with the lead time required to design, procure, construct, and commission replacements, make this work critical.

As such, he said a three phase action plan was developed by the Ministry:

  • Phase I is to study the location of the bridges, the topography, the volume and flow of marine and highway traffic and to provide well defined options for each of the two crossings including a Class C cost estimate
  • Phase II is to narrow the options down to one preferred option for each bridge including a Class B cost estimate.
  • Phase III is to prepare detailed designs, plans and specifications that are 100 percent complete and ready to be issued for tender with a Class A cost estimate.

He also took time out to “give a brief history lesson” on how Bermuda’s “history and future” are inextricably linked, dating back hundreds of years to when “Richard Norwood divided the land in such a way that every share would have access to the water, north or south”.

For decades, it was possible to avoid extensive travelling overland, until “Governor Butler’s Fifth Act in his General Assembly of 1620” that “ordered the ‘construction of certain public bridges and their maintenance’, essential for footpaths allowing people to gather on public occasions”.

“By 1624 three bridges were marked on Captain John Smith’s chart of Bermuda, included in his General History of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles.”

Fast forward to today, some 397 years later, he said: “We have over 40 bridges.”

“As a point of significance, Somerset Bridge which was built in 1634, is still the smallest drawbridge in the world, but it might also be the first bridge ever built in the Western Hemisphere. As such, our nation has a great legacy with bridges.” And today, he said our “bridges are still an important asset to this country”, with teams assigned to inspections and repairs “on a continuous basis to ensure safety and infrastructure integrity”.

“The Swing Bridge substructures were built in 1864. A hundred years later, in 1964, the actual superstructure was constructed.” When the traffic load increased over the years and after 1964, he said: “The Swing Bridge structure has been subjected to a number of modifications and repairs. These include the strengthening of the approach spans by the addition of girders, strengthening of many cross beams by the addition of steel planting and other such reinforcement work.

With the use of “prefabricated bridge elements” with “structural components that are built off-site” he said the amount of time traffic will be disrupted while “the bridge repaired or constructed”.

“Prefabricated bridge elements will also improve significantly the quality of concrete in our work with high performance aggregates (not available in Bermuda) and optimal curing conditions. These technologies, will be used in our design to lower our construction cost, increase durability and decrease maintenance cost.

“The target life span of the new bridges will be 100 years,” he said.

And there’s a built-in provision “to imbed a Bermudian engineering trainee with the successful bidder so that the process and knowledge gained during this exercise will be available to the Ministry once the bridges are in place”.

“These new bridges will be engineered by one of the best bridge engineering firms in the world and as such an outstanding young Bermudian engineering trainee – Mr Ricardo Graham-Ward will commence a six month secondment with Ramboll’s UK office commencing 15th January 2018.

“This secondment will allow this young Bermudian civil engineer the opportunity to work on this project at the very beginning and be trained by the best movable bridge engineers in the world. I am certain this attachment will provide him with invaluable training and experience that would otherwise not be available to us.”

The Minister noted that he will keep his parliamentary colleagues “informed of progress” moving forward “through the remaining two phases”.