NIPIGON, Ont. – The newly-built Nipigon River Bridge located in Northern Ontario split thanks to the cold on Sunday afternoon, severing the only transportation link between Eastern and Western Canada – the Trans-Canada Highway.
However, on Monday morning, the OPP tweeted that the bridge had been reopened to a single lane. As of Tuesday morning, the single lane is still the only one being used on the bridge.
Concrete weights were added by crews to help weigh down the bridge where it had lifted.
Traffic on the bridge is still alternating east and westbound traffic and traffic control is still in place with the help of a pilot vehicle. Delays are still to be expected and in addition, though traffic is now moving, there has been no indication as to whether this is a temporary fix or a long-term solution. Vehicles are limited to 25 km/h across the bridge at the present time.
TBNewswatch.com first reported that the OPP closed Highway 11-17 at 3:05 p.m. on Sunday “when bolts holding the girder to the bearing on an expansion joint broke on the bridge’s north side.”
Officials said the eastern half of the bridge had risen two feet because of the split. At the time, the OPP said the bridge was to be closed indefinitely but one lane was opened early Monday morning to help move the traffic. These delays are affecting the Canadian trucking industry, as carriers were told to expect major delays.
“Right now, we’ve been hearing from our member companies that certainly people are being delayed at this point,” said Terry Shaw, executive director of the Manitoba Trucking Association in an interview with Truck News. “But prior to an hour or so ago, we had people who were stuck out there.”
Shaw said even though one lane has been reopened which is good for the traffic flow, there are still concerns for trucks operating above Highway Traffic Act (HTA) limits for weight since they will not be permitted to cross the bridge currently. He added that he believes the country needs a better infrastructure plan to prevent something like this from happening again.
“Well when you think about it, it’s the Trans-Canada Highway,” he said. “And (the Nipigon bridge) is in our most populous province. So the simple fact that Canada can get kind of split in half is concerning. Even though (the bridge) is not in a popular area, people need to think of it as a major pathway. We routinely tell the Manitoba government to tell the Ontario government that although it’s not a popular pathway, it’s a critical pathway. Again, this is the Trans-Canada Highway and we do need a national infrastructure plan and a national highway plan that ensures we have some security so that if a bridge was to do go down again, or we have a major snow storm, that our country doesn’t shut down.”
Truck News managed to speak with one commercial driver who was stuck in the Thunder Bay, Ont-area because of the closure on Sunday night.
Manminder Rattu, a driver for Day & Ross, was on his way back to Brampton, Ont. from Vancouver when he was stopped because of the closure. He said around 6-6:30 p.m. on Sunday night he received a message from dispatch. At first, he just thought it was a weather update, since it was a rather cold night. As he continued on the highway, he saw a sign on the road informing him the Trans-Canada highway was closed indefinitely.
“Obviously that was not good news,” he said. “So, I pulled off and read the messages from dispatch. Dispatch told me it would be a minimum of four days (for the closure) and that they would keep me updated. I then went online to see what happened and sure enough I saw reports of bolts being broken and that the bridge was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Rattu decided to travel to Thunder Bay to a Wal-mart parking lot for the night. He said there were lots of truckers who also chose to park there for the night and they were all talking about the closure.
Rattu added in his four years as a commercial driver, he’s never encountered anything like the situation in Nipigon before.
A single lane of the Nipigon bridge was opened Monday morning.
“Well sometimes (as a driver) you get stuck passing through with accidents or weather, but nothing like this has ever happened to me,” he said. “I mean, the main artery was shut down. It’s big news. Even my cousins in England were hearing about it and they know I drive so they were concerned. It’s kind of embarrassing because it’s like how can this be happening in Canada? And why is there only one route? If you’re shutting down the transport industry, you’re stopping people from getting food, merchandise, everything.”
Since the bridge was opened to a single lane, Rattu was able to head back to Brampton Monday afternoon. He added that at the time of his crossing, there was still lots of congestion in Nipigon.
“Everyone was taking their time gong over listening for creaks and cracks,” he said.
Prior to the single lane being opened on Monday morning, commercial vehicles on that route were being encouraged to travel west at through the US at the Sault Ste. Marie border crossing.
“For similar events in the future, OTA would like to remind carriers that Canadian carriers are legally able to move Canadian goods in transit through the US provided the carrier is able to supply an eManifest to USCBP, including the value for all shipments on board – something, admittedly, that to date has been the biggest obstacle for Canadian carriers wishing to move in-transit,” the association said in an official release on the situation. “As such, the association has contacted USCBP and the Government of Canada to consider temporarily allowing paper in transits without value for the purposes of an emergency contingency. OTA and CTA will apprise members on its discussions with both US, Canadian and provincial authorities on contingency options going forward.”
The NDP party released a joint statement on Monday expressing its disappointment on how the Liberal government has handled the situation.
“The failure of Nipigon River Bridge shows the Liberal government’s mismanagement of Northern Ontario’s roads and highways…The bridge is the transport lifeline for Northern communities and for commerce across the province. The closure of the bridge separated families and workers throughout Northern Ontario. Now with only partial repair, the faulty bridge is seriously hampering movement of families, workers and commerce throughout Northern Ontario and the province,” said Wayne Gates, MPP for Niagara Falls and the NDP’s Transportation critic.
“Right now, the Liberal government’s infrastructure plan for Northern Ontario seems to be: ‘drive through the United States,” added Michael Mantha, MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin and the NDP’s Northern Development and Mines critic.
Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle worked together with Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca to update the public on the situation.
“As Ontario’s Minister of Transportation, I take the safety of our roads and bridges very seriously,” said the province’s transport minister Steven Del Duca Sunday night. “Understanding the major impact this closure has on traffic and local communities along the Trans-Canada Highway, I have spoken with Minister Michael Gravelle and Mayor Richard Harvey and assured them that MTO will do everything they can do to restore the bridge quickly, while also making sure that the safety of the travelling public remains of paramount importance.”
“Clearly, this is an emergency situation,” Gravelle added according to TBNewswatch.com. “There’s no question about it. I could not be more concerned and I’m trying to find out as much as I can, as quickly as I can.”