On borrowed time

Would Quebec’s Ministère des transports allow motorists to use a bridge they knew was unsafe?

Someone asked me that this week, along with when the eastbound slow lane on the Ile aux Tourtes bridge would reopen to traffic.

I wish I had answers.

This week marks the first anniversary of the lane shutdown. It’s still closed to traffic. The Ministére des transports (MTQ) is uncharacteristically mute on the closure and expected duration of repairs.

I can tell you the state of the Île-aux-Tourtes span concerns the Treasury Board, which includes the bridge in this year’s list of major projects. Prior to this year’s budget, taxpayers paid $47.8M to keep the bridge open. This year’s emergency repairs are budgeted at $7.3M with another $5.5M already earmarked for next year.

The Treasury Board must decide whether it’s cheaper to repair or replace the thing.
Opened in 1966, the 1.9 km span was built of eight prestressed concrete box beams. It was originally designed with a 50-year life cycle based on 25,000 vehicles a day. Now at the end of its 50-year life expectancy, the span carries 83,000 plus vehicles a day. Twelve (12) % of that are trucks, which set the entire bridge to shaking when several are crossing at the same time.

Successive inspection reports have detailed advanced and accelerating deterioration. The major concern is the southernmost box beam. The added weight of breakdown lanes cantilevered onto the original structure 20 years ago is prying the beam apart. From underneath the bridge one can see massive cracks in the box beam and several of the piers holding the bridge up. Salt-laden runoff is speeding its destruction.

The MTQ has never been honest on the span’s condition or plans for its replacement. Off the record, we’re told the Ile aux Tourtes would be replaced in 2020. Estimated cost: $500 million plus.

In the meantime  I drive in the fast lane and try to avoid peak trucking hours as I ask myself whether the authorities would allow us to continue using a bridge they knew to be unsafe.

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