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The Fly-in/Fly-out hotel

FERMONT, Que. – The driver slows his rig to a crawl as the snowstorm builds on the North Shore of the Saint Lawrence River, on this last Friday of February. Three hours east of Quebec City on Hwy. 138 he finally calls it quits, maneuvers...


FERMONT, Que. – The driver slows his rig to a crawl as the snowstorm builds on the North Shore of the Saint Lawrence River, on this last Friday of February. Three hours east of Quebec City on Hwy. 138 he finally calls it quits, maneuvers his 25,000-lb (11,340-kg) wide load off the road, shuts down and crawls into his bunk.

As it turns out, it will be Monday before he can resume his 1,226-km trip from Terrebonne, just north of Montreal, to Fermont, in the wilds of northern Quebec just across the Quebec border from Labrador City.

This is just the latest of over 100 loads of prefabricated modules that Saint-Nicolas-based heavy-haul specialist Levio Transport has moved for Terrebonne-based prefabricated building designer and manufacturer IME.

Montreal-based Groupe Direct is also moving some of the modules. On the Monday that the Levio driver resumed his trip, Groupe Direct drivers cleared snow off module roofs, tied down their loads, adjusted their mirrors and left IME with five modules. Eight more modules waited their turn on trailers in the IME yard.

A total of 208 modules will make the trip for this project: a 260-room accommodations/hotel called Fly-in/Fly-out. Projected for completion this June, Fly-in/Fly-out will house workers for the giant iron ore mine that steel and mining company ArcelorMittal operates in nearby Mont-Wright.

IME had been building modules at the rate of two a day in its 100,000 sq.-ft. factory since last November. It was shipping one a day, but by mid-February slowed the pace to three a week.

The modules are packed with just about everything workers and staff need; ie., beds, mattresses, fridges, televisions, lazy boy chairs and kitchen equipment.

“We try to pack everything in the modules. Wood and other products, like pool tables and linen are shipped separately or purchased locally,” explains Stephane DesRochers, business development, IME.

The 20- to 22-hour trip is a mix of good and nasty driving conditions, with some travel restrictions. Once on the four-lane A-40, the first, 250-km leg of the trip is clear sailing on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence to Quebec City.

There are no time-of-day restrictions. The modules are not so big that any detours are required: most measure 12’ wide by 52’ long by 12’6” high and weigh 25,000 lbs (11,340 kgs). The largest measure 16’ wide by 40’ long by 13’9” high and weigh in at 45,000 lbs (20,412 kgs). Any modules over 12-ft. wide require escort vehicles, according to Jacques Sirois, president, Levio Transport.

After Quebec City, the roads become smaller and the trucks are restricted to driving during daylight hours. First is the 438-km leg on Hwy. 138 to Baie-Comeau. The driving is slower on this winding, hilly highway. It is here, near Les Escoumins, where that late-February storm stopped the Levio driver.

At Baie-Comeau, drivers hang a left onto northbound Hwy. 389. It is on this leg of the journey that things get interesting. In fact, some say it is the most dangerous highway in Canada. The leg to Manac-5, the site of one of Hydro Quebec’s power dams, is paved, but the route is twisty and narrow. A map shows only two place names – Tour and Fraser – buried in the northern spruce. The trip is not so lonely when Groupe Direct or Levio run convoys. “We have put together convoys of up to eight tractor-trailers,” Sirois says.

The going gets edgy after Manac-5: This last 250 kms to Fermont is unpaved and the forest grows right to the edges of the road. “The road is terrible. There are potholes and bumps, and it gets slippery. Sometimes the trucks can only go five to 10 kilometres an hour. This is a big contract, but with big costs,” Sirois says.

Levio runs heavy-duty International, Volvo and Freightliner tractors, with engines ranging from 450 to 550 hp. It uses telescoping, hydraulic flatbed trailers. The conditions have caused equipment problems such as an engine failure and transmission, differential and brake damage.

Drivers will catch glimpses of Lac Manicouagan through the trees, pass through Relais-Gabriel, La Porte-des-Bouleau, Mont-Wright before finally reaching Fermont.

Here, cranes will relieve trailers of their loads and drivers can rest before their two-day drive home.

The weather has been mostly cooperative this winter, but the spring thaw signals the end of whatever good can be said of that last 250 kms.

The last of the modules are scheduled for transport by mid-March, but some will have a three-week wait till the spring thaw restrictions pass: the first week of March for the heaviest modules on the A-40, the second week for heavy vehicles on the 138, then the week after that on the 389.


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