RIGA - More than half of Latvia's bridges are in either poor or critical condition, according to data released by "Latvian State Roads" and the Transport Ministry on Aug. 10.
In order to repair the bridges and return them to normal condition, massive repairs are planned from 2007 - 2009. The highest priority for repair will be bridges near the border, said the ministry.
The data revealed that of the 922 bridges in Latvia, 391 's 43 percent 's are in bad condition and 186 's 20 percent 's are in a critical state.
The report mirrors a similar conclusion recently reached in the United States after a major thoroughfare bridge toppled into the river in the state of Minnesota.
"'Critical state' means that the physical lifetime of a bridge is coming to an end. These bridges are not, however, in an 'emergency state' 's they are not in danger of collapsing," Tija Ezerina, a spokeswoman for the Transport Ministry, said.
Ezerina noted that it is impossible to determine the total cost of full repairs to all the bridges. "It is impossible to determine either costs or duration of all construction operations of bridges because those works are never-ending. Different parts of bridge have different lifetime," she explained.
The projected costs for the repairs in 2007, however, are staggering. Latvian State Roads, a company owned in full by the Transport Ministry, is planning work on approximately 35 of the bridges this year.
While most of the bridges require less than 100,000 lats (142,000 euros) worth of work, some will cost more than 6 million lats to repair. The total expected cost of fixing the bridges is more than 25.6 million lats in 2007 alone.
Contracts have already been signed for almost all of the bridge reconstruction projects for 2007, and many of those have gone to the dominant "Latvia's Bridges" company. The lucrative deals have helped drive the firm's stock value up 65 percent year-on-year.
While some of the money is expected to come from EU structural funds, the government will have to foot some of the cost as well. Transport Minister Ainars Slesers hopes that the ministry will be able to draw on excise taxes to help fund the repairs. "If the transport ministry is successful in getting 95 percent of excise taxes in road funds, then there will be much more money for bridges as well," the Latvian news portal Apollo reported the minister as saying.
Most of the bridges will be able to remain open for traffic during the construction, but bridges may be closed for reconstruction in order to speed up the process and ensure quality. "However, in such situations circuit possibilities are ensured via a detour or a temporary bridge is built," Ezerina said.
Newly constructed or reconstructed iron-beam bridges, which make up about 94 percent of the bridges in Latvia, are designed to last for 100 years. They often must be repainted, however, every 15 years, Ezerina said. Normally bridges require about 1.5 percent of the cost of the bridge in maintenance every year.