One in three bridges in Latvia are in 'critical state'

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Bridges managed by local governments have been neglected for a long time, and their safety is questionable, according to State Audit Office (VK) information published September 16 following an audit in several municipalities.

The audit was carried out on 332 bridges in 11 municipalities. Of those 98 were deemed not safe.

The VK said that regulatory enactments do not precisely define specific management activities for bridge owners, but the action algorithm can be found in the Latvian standard for impact-testing of bridges, as well as in the guidelines and guidelines for the management of bridges developed by the State JSC “Latvian State Roads”.

The audit shows that municipalities often fail to implement many of the necessary maintenance measures. Bridges are generally not perceived as engineering structures, but as normal road sections. And management is limited to works needed to maintain the carriageway, for example, patchwork rather than structural maintenance.

The VK said that city authorities have identified the situation of the bridges and are familiar with the measures to improve the situation of the bridges. However, municipalities do not do so in many areas. Only 16% of bridges have undergone major inspections.

In the view of VK, an alarming trend is also the “head in the sand” policy observed in individual municipalities, where the public is not informed about already known unsafe bridges.

Supervision over how local governments care about the maintenance of road bridges has been entrusted to the capital company “Latvian State Roads” under the supervision of the Ministry of Transport. However, as identified by the audit, these control activities have also failed to ensure that municipalities would better maintain the bridges.

The formal reason for the sad situation with municipal bridges is the lack of funding. However, VK points out that this is not a reason to postpone the problem indefinitely. The longer the bridge maintenance and recovery jobs are postponed, the higher the costs and risks expected in the future.

The VK sees the situation of bridges owned by local governments as a serious problem for which large investments will be needed: almost €85 million in total.

If state and local governments do not create solutions and financial support for the relatively rapid resolution of this issue, we can expect consequences that will hurt both the mobility of the population, its security, and the economy as a whole, the VK said.

State Control has provided recommendations to improve the situation for the 11 municipalities selected in the sample, but calls on other municipalities to address the problem too, as the situation identified by the audit with municipal bridges and overpasses is likely to be similar throughout Latvia.

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