NCC blames financial shortfall for deteriorating Ottawa buildings, infrastructure flagged by auditor

Hogs Back
The NCC has closed the Hog's Back Swing Bridge several times this year for unscheduled maintenance, drawing concerns from the area's councillor. (Photo by Justin S. Campbell / Flickr)

Bridges, roads, paths and buildings across the capital region that are owned by the National Capital Commission are crumbling and the commission doesn’t have the funding to fix them.

That assessment comes from the auditor general, who reviewed the agency and found while it’s generally well run, it doesn’t have the capacity to fix everything it owns.

Nicholas Galletti, the NCC’s director of communications, said the agency doesn’t disagree with the auditor’s assessment and knows a serious investment is required.

“We take this very seriously. We’re going to be working with government to address the funding shortfall in the coming months,” he said.

Looking at the NCC’s own reports, the auditor general found that 10 per cent of the commission’s infrastructure is in poor or critical condition and an additional 17 per cent is only in fair condition.

Galletti said the NCC currently has a third party doing a review of those assets and didn’t want to release their list now. But he said 24 Sussex Drive, the Hog’s Back and Portage bridges, most of the urban parks, and many other assets needed serious repairs.

He said roadways the NCC manages across the region have not seen significant investments in some time: “I would say 75 per cent of all our roads haven’t been addressed since the 1980s so that’s a major area.”

Galletti said the replacement value of their assets has been estimated at $1.7 billion and the commission has a capital budget of $22.7 million a year.

“We’re coming to a critical stage where we are going to need additional funding,” he said. “This is going to take more than one year, it will take five to ten years to really bring our assets up to a situation where they are sustainable.”

Heritage Minister Melanie Joly was not available for an interview, but her press secretary Pierre-Olivier Herbert said the department is prepared to look at the issue.

"Our government recognizes the valuable role the National Capital Commission plays in the national capital region," he said. "As with all requests for new funding, the government has to balance the many financial pressures and the limited funds available."

The NCC’s response to the auditor’s report comes as one Ottawa city councillor seeks an explanation for why the Hog's Back Swing Bridge keeps failing.

In a letter sent to NCC chief executive Mark Kristmanson earlier this week, River Ward Coun. Riley Brockington said he was concerned with the condition of the bridge and its significant impacts on traffic when it is closed for unscheduled maintenance.

"This needs to be addressed once and for all," he wrote, asking for details of the exact issues with the bridge and when they will be addressed.

"What's happened throughout this summer, and I think it's been more frequent this year, than any other year since I was elected, is we've had multiple unscheduled, unplanned breaks in service because the bridge has had various issues," he said in an interview. "I'm quite concerned how the city is impacted, at least the south-west end of the city is impacted when this bridge is out of commission."

Brockington said the NCC has told him they will be providing him with a detailed response to his concerns.

NCC spokesperson Dominique LeBlanc said in a statement that the bridge was custom designed and built more than 40 years ago and many of its components have reached the end of their life-cycles.

"This type of bridge is no longer being built," she said.

"Some of the challenges with maintaining the bridge include the fact that it is functionally active for only a portion of the year, and dormant for the balance of the year, as well as the significant increase in traffic volume of both boats and vehicles in the past 20 years," she said.

LeBlanc said the NCC aims to do scheduled repairs during off-peak times to minimize the impact.

The closures earlier this summer were due to a mechanical issues related to the hydraulic system, while the closures this past week were due to an electrical issue, she said. The electrical issue has been resolved.

This story originally appeared in Metro News.