The only thing more slippery than the Port Mann Bridge deck it would seem is the management tasked with overseeing that treacherous span’s operation.
Twice in the past few weeks we have seen the high-priced help attempt to duck responsibility for disastrous events on the $2.5 billion structure only to find themselves at odds with their political masters.
Immediately following the “ice bombs” hurtling down on unsuspecting drivers crossing the bridge, Mike Proudfoot, CEO of the crown corporation responsible for the bridge, made himself available to the media.
According to reports from that event, he rather sheepishly insisted neither the contractor who built the bridge nor his own company, Transportation Investment Corporation (TI Corp.), was responsible because the bridge was built to Canadian standards. Not our fault.
The following day we heard from Proudfoot’s boss, the province’s Minister of Transportation Mary Polak. She told reporters all the fault was on the contractor Kiewit-Flatiron: “What we saw occur on the Port Mann was absolutely unacceptable and it shouldn’t have happened.”
(We subsequently heard from structural engineers that bridges suspended by cables, as this one is, built elsewhere in the world with similar winter conditions have exhibited the same problem. A fact nobody seems to have noted when the plan was approved.)
Proudfoot said the plastic sheeting on the cables, which were supposed to keep ice from building up and then falling on the deck, didn’t work. No kidding. He added that tolls would be waved for drivers who used the bridge during that traumatic period when they were being bombed by ice as they attempted to cross. That would be $1.50 each, thank you very much. He also said the crown corporation would cover the deductible for those 100 or so drivers who filed claims, which, of course, will come out of our pockets as taxpayers.
As for the rest of the costs, well, Polak assured us that TI Corp. and ICBC are working together to figure out a way taxpayers don’t have to pick those up.
Three weeks later, this comes as news to ICBC. According to ICBC communications guy, Adam Grossman, going after the contractor Kiewit-Flatiron is “not something we’re looking at, at this time.”
This brings us to the second death defying incident on the bridge. Last week, while traffic on other Lower Mainland bridges seemed relatively trouble free, there was chaos on the new Port Mann when about 40 vehicles ended in a pileup on the deck’s ice-covered surface.
This time IT Corp. spokesperson Max Logan stepped up to say — you guessed it — not their fault. Instead he threw Mainroad Contracting under the bus, as it were. “The contractor essentially says they are responsible to make sure ice does not build up on the highway. It’s not prescriptive; it’s focused on what the expectation is. They did not meet expectations.”
But before all those freaked-out drivers could call their lawyers to sue Mainland Contracting, we heard from Mary Polak when she met the press.
Unlike Max Logan, Polak concluded, “there’s nothing they’ve done that they were negligent in.” And she added: “There’s nothing with respect to what they did that they could have predicted what did happen with any certainty.” Like, you know, winter and fog and icy roads.
Be that as it may, Proudfoot and his crew have since directed the apparently totally innocent contractor to double its efforts in keeping the bridge deck ice-free by spraying it with brine every 24 hours instead of every 48 hours. As for the drivers in that massive traffic accident, they will get no tolls forgiven and receive no compensation. Blame the weather and blame their speed which, ironically, according to Mary Polak was greater than in the past because of the success of the whole multi-billion dollar infrastructure project: “People are able to reach speeds on the bridge at rush hour they never were before.”
Polak also said the black ice is a reminder that winter driving conditions are here and motorists should be prepared. She could have added that the folks responsible for the operation of the bridge should be prepared as well, but that probably slipped her mind.