Abuja — Following speculations that the Third Mainland Bridge faces imminent collapse, Works Minister, Mike Onolememen has said the bridge was physically fit for human and vehicular movements.
The minister equally assured that contrary to insinuations in some quarters that the River Niger Bridge was not fit, there was nothing wrong with the bridge even as he agreed there must be routine maintenance of the bridge.
He said his assurance was based on the reports submitted to him recently by experts who undertook assessment of the two bridges following alarm raised by some people over the fate of the bridges.
Mr Onolememen spoke Monday, during a public hearing on the nation's highway bridges, held at the instance of the Senate Committee on Works.
The public hearing was sequel to motions sponsored by Senators Hope Uzodinma, PDP Imo West and Gbenga Ashafa, ACN Lagos East respectively, last week on the state of the nation's highway bridges.
Senator Ashafa had relied on a report of a company which carried out an inspection of the underwater structures of the bridge and suggested that it could collapse soon if nothing was done about it.
The minister explained that the ministry had contracted the Nigerian Submarine Divers, NSD Ltd in 2010 to undertake inspection of the Third Mainland Bridge and Eko Bridge in Lagos in order to ascertain the state of the underwater structural elements.
He said an initial report of the underwater inspection presented by NSD in July 2011 showed 'alarming' deterioration and serious damages on numerous piles of the Third Mainland Bridge.
"The final report submitted by NSD in November 2011 indicated 'extensive' deterioration of embedded steel reinforcement in piles, concrete degradation and appreciatiable loss of concrete material as well as discontinuities in some foundation piles which had apparently affected the load bearing capacity of the piles," Onolemenmen said.
He said after reviewing the final report of NSD Ltd, it was observed that not all piles were inspected due to various reasons such as obstruction by human activities and inaccessibility, but the ministry insisted that all piles whether underwater or on land be investigated in line with the contract.
"The findings of Messrs Nigerian Submarine Divers Ltd (NSD) were strictly based on visual inspection and under water photos. For this reason, and following meetings between officials of the ministry, Messrs NSD, Julius Berger and Borini Prono, it was decided that advanced integrity assessment including high technology, chemical analysis of concrete samples from piles was inevitable, and in order to authenticate the findings of NSD as contained in their reports.
"Moreover, since Messrs NSD Ltd is not a civil engineering consultancy firm, their capacity and professional competence to carry out such works was doubtful," the minister said.
He also told the committee that a bill of N33 billion was submitted by a consultant to his office to do some immediate repairs on the bridge, but he turned it down having adjudged it as unrealistic.
He said: "Of course, that memo came to me and I refused to approve it and instead I wanted the entire pile by pile investigation to be carried out so that we know exactly what to do. After all, the most critical sessions of the bridge, the first two session where we need to carry out immediate repair from information available to me by people who did the test we will not need more than N5billon to carry out these repairs."
According to him, the advanced integrity assessment contract was awarded to Messrs Borini Prono and Co. which brought a report showing that the visual underwater inspection, the nondestructive tests and coring campaign carried out in the Third Mainland Bridge confirmed the adequacy of pile concrete quality.
"Based on the report of the investigations, there is no evidence of immediate threat of failure of the pilings. No cases of total loss of piles, clearance between the pile and pile cap or other major anomalies were reported on the tested piles.
"Although serious steel casing corrosion was noticeable, it was pointed out that the steel casing has no structural function regarding pile bearing capacity, as they simply served as form works to the R.C Piles," he said.
He said to safeguard the integrity of the bridge, the ministry had engaged a consultant M/s ICECON Nig. Ltd; to urgently carry out investigation on the entire bridge's substructure so as to determine the extent of maintenance work required.
"The outcome of this investigation will then determine the extent of repairs to be carried out on the Third Mainland Bridge. The ministry has taken the necessary steps in line with its mandate to ensure that the Third Mainland Bridge, a very important infrastructure investment of government, is protected and kept structurally sound," Onolemenmen added.
Chairman of the committee, Senator Ayogu Eze, said it appeared that the motion might have come as a result of a disagreement between the ministry and one of its consultants.
He said it was clear that the ministry had taken some steps to ensure the safety of the bridge before the motion came before the Senate.