MONTREAL, Que. - Following the publication this October of the Johnson report into the partial collapse of the de la Concorde overpass in September, 2006, which killed five people and injured others, ...
MONTREAL, Que. – Following the publication this October of the Johnson report into the partial collapse of the de la Concorde overpass in September, 2006, which killed five people and injured others, the Quebec government announced several initiatives designed to bring the province’s thousands of bridges and overpasses up to North American standards.
Transports Quebec also lifted weight restrictions in October on 31 of the 55 overpasses for which evaluations had been completed. Of the 55 overpasses, 21 need major repairs or even replacement. It remains to be determined what repairs might be required for five others. Evaluations on 60 other structures are still ongoing.
Some overpasses have been closed. Others have had their overweight restrictions removed and yet others have had the maximum permissible loads capped at various maximum tonnages. Updates on the overpasses for which the evaluations are available are on the Transports Quebec Web site.
The documents listing the results of this set of 55 evaluations seem to suggest that all of the structures requiring work will be attended to in 2008. However, there are no indications so far just how long it will take to perform the work. One report said that it can take Transports Quebec over two years to replace an overpass – bad news for the trucking companies who have been unable to move oversized loads since overweight restrictions were placed on 135 overpasses and bridges earlier this year.
The stunning revelations, however, lie in the details of the Johnson report, and the fallout for Transports Quebec and the province. The report does not mince words when laying blame for the collapse of the de la Concorde overpass at this contractor’s or that engineer’s doorstep. Phrases like “widespread negligence,” “passing the buck,” “shoddy construction” and “questionable design” were used in the explanation of the chronology of events that led up to the de la Concorde collapse.
Among other things, the detailing, concentration and installation of the reinforcing rods were judged improper, leading to a plane of weakness where cracking of the concrete could occur. The rebar installer did poor work, the lack of quality control was “total” and there was a lack of on-site supervision by the consulting engineers, according to the report.
The concrete that was used was not designed to resist our freeze-thaw cycles. When an inspection uncovered deterioration of the overpass, someone decided not to install waterproofing, which just made the problem worse. Then work on the overpass in 1992 helped weaken it more; for example, with the frequent trundling of extremely heavy machinery over it. Even the jack hammering in the 2002 repair work further weakened the overpass. In 2004 another chance to spot serious problems in the structure was missed due to an inadequate inspection.
Quebec’s Ministry of Transport was singled out for the lion’s share of the blame, with the Johnson report fingering the Ministry for things like poor record-keeping, keeping incomplete files and allowing unclear accountability between engineers and administrative units.
Noting that only about half of the structures in Quebec are in good condition, the Quebec government announced in October a four-pronged approach to dealing with the crisis, and restoring public faith in the road network.
First, it will introduce a bill to allow the creation of an independent agency, with special skills, that will assume responsibility for all of the province’s bridges and overpasses. The agency will be separate from Transports Quebec, which will retain responsibility for the road network.
The agency will also assume responsibility for 4,400 bridges and overpasses in 838 municipalities with fewer than 100,000 residents.
Second, the government announced a recovery plan for the road network in which it will work to restore 83% of the roads and 80% of the structures to North American standards within 15 years. The province will spend $11.6 billion over the next four years as part of its first five-year plan; this also includes spending for roads.
Third on the list is a major shakeup of Transports Quebec’s work culture: The government promises to re-write how planning and engineering is done, with a view to better safety and efficiency.
These changes will affect the design, construction, monitoring, operation and maintenance of the road network. A “personal record” will be created for each structure, allowing its status to be known from early design days right through to the end of each one’s design service life.
Last but not least in this overhaul is a pledge to make this whole process transparent to the public. The way the government intends to do this is to post each structure’s profile, or record, on the Internet where it can be accessed by anyone. The information to be made available, reportedly in real-time, will include each structure’s condition and schedule of inspections and work done.