Looks like the lane changes on the Ile ‘o’ Torture bridge will be with us well into 2016 and quite possibly longer. Last week, Quebec’s transport minister and the region’s two MNAs called a presser to announce the creation of a median crossover at the Vaudreuil-Dorion end and moveable Jersey barriers so morning and evening rush traffic gets the use of three lanes.
I wasn’t invited, so didn’t get the opportunity to ask why wasn’t the bypass completed and opened BEFORE the eastbound slow lane was closed in mid-December? Three years ago, the temporary Île Thomas bridge was built and opened BEFORE demolition began on the double span just to the west of the Île aux Tourtes Frankenbridge.
The Ministère de Transports news release concluded:
Les travaux de réparation du pont de l’Île-aux-Tourtes ont commencé durant la fin de semaine du 18 décembre et se poursuivront au cours des prochaines semaines. Le Ministère précisera ultérieurement la date de fin des travaux, dont la durée est tributaire des conditions d’exécution en période hivernale.
Translation: A completion date for repairs depends on whether work can continue over the winter.
You know something is serious when crews worked weekends and statutory holidays to install a temporary shelter and construction trailer on the south side of the bridge and fired up a heating system.
This says ‘emergency closure’ to me.
Equally concerning was the reaction to my questions about the latest in the list of Île aux Tourtes contracts posted on the SEAO website. (SEAO is the Quebec government’s electronic tendering system, born out of the collusion shitstorm.) “Oh, that contract has undergone major revisions,” said the MTQ agent named in the tender documents before handing me off to a Montreal colleague. “I have no record of any such contract,” he told me.
However SEAO documents tell us this:
The work now underway is based on a survey by consulting engineers CIMA Plus released Nov. 10. (A request for comment was unreturned.) It counselled an evaluation of the load-carrying capacity of the 50-year-old bridge, specifically the damaged box beams and the bridge deck. Of particular concern is a 40-millimetre hole and cracks which seem to have appeared since a scheduled inspection in September.
Why the scramble to close the eastbound slow lane and reduce the speed limit? It’s contained in the 2012 Genivar report, a 114-page litany of woes based on four main concerns: age, poorly designed and engineered modifications, slapdash maintenance and a load it wasn’t designed to carry.
Last point first: the bridge, one of the first ever built in Quebec with prestressed flexible trusses, was designed to handle 25,000 vehicles a day; it carries an estimated 85,000. To handle the load, the original deck was widened to 30 metres by adding what can best be described as porches on both sides. They did this by cantilevering supports on the two outside main beams, then replacing the original lightweight guardrails with much heavier, less flexible concrete barriers. As we reported in 2007, the result was a heavier, less flexible structure.
It was originally designed with a 35-year lifespan (In 2012, the MTQ announced it would be replaced in 2020). Road salt, inadequate drainage (and possibly the wrong kind of concrete), coupled with a demonstrated lack of maintenance, have contributed to its accelerating deterioration and skyrocketing cost of keeping it open. Up until last year it cost taxpayers more than $45 million in maintenance. For 2015-16, the tab will be $7.9M, $12.6M between 2016 and 2020.
All this to say there’s a good reason for maintaining and upgrading public transit between Vaudreuil-Soulanges and Montreal Island. Imagine what off-island life would be like without the Île aux Tourtes bridge. Meanwhile, I’m driving in the inside lanes or taking Highway 20.