MONTREAL, Que. - After the deadly collapse of Montreal's de la Concorde Overpass in September, 2006, Transports Quebec (MTQ) launched an exhaustive examination of the road network. It also drew up a l...
MONTREAL, Que. –After the deadly collapse of Montreal’s de la Concorde Overpass in September, 2006, Transports Quebec (MTQ) launched an exhaustive examination of the road network. It also drew up a list of 135 structures that, subject to testing of their structural soundness, had their weight limits reduced to varying degrees.
Weight restrictions severely cramped the operations of some carriers that haul oversize loads, but many have been lifted as MTQ issued report after report of completed analyses. This April it announced that it had finished its analysis of the 135 structures. The final score: 83 structures open to all weights (including overweight); 26 structures open up to the legal limit; 22 have reduced weight limits; and four structures are closed.
The collapse precipitated other province-wide initiatives, including an unprecedented road network repair campaign worth $12 billion between 2008 and 2012. MTQ also assumed responsibility for the inspection, structural evaluation, repairs, replacements and ongoing maintenance of 4,281 bridges in 904 municipalities.
The problem, however, is that there are not enough structural engineers to do the work, according to Michel Gagnon, president of the Association professionnelle des ingenieurs du gouvernement du Quebec (APIGQ) (association of professional engineers of the government of Quebec). “There was $170 million to do repairs to structures in 2004, and $842 million in 2008. But there are not more engineers to do the work. We are losing people. The government is incapable of hiring experienced engineers.”
Gagnon acknowledges the point made by the Minister of Transport, Julie Boulet, that between 1993 and 2008 the number of engineers working in Quebec has risen from 327 to 513, but, he adds, “Those engineers are for everything from snow removal to bike routes. It is not enough engineers to assure a safe road network.”
He points to Boulet’s own words in an Apr. 18, 2008 transcript from a transport and environment commission, in which she said that there could be a need for 150 to 200 more engineers.
“We are afraid that the construction schedule is too fast. The money is there, but the extra engineers have not been hired,” Gagnon says.
One highway structure that has been getting extensive media attention this year is the Turcot interchange, an elevated network of roadways on Montreal Island that links the A15 with the A20 and other inter-city arteries. Concrete has broken loose from the roadway, and millions of dollars have been budgeted for repairs even as Transports Quebec prepares to start dismantling the interchange next year and replace it in a multi-year project.
Gagnon comments: “There are quick inspections of all structures in Quebec once a year, and there are supposed to be detailed inspections of each structure once every three years. But they are inspecting the Turcot interchange every day. This is not normal. If, in Quebec, one is doing an inspection every day, it is because there is a problem. There is something unsettling about the structure.”
He also notes that there are three engineering firms studying the Turcot interchange. Information and misinformation has been flying about the condition of the Champlain Bridge, a grand structure built in 1962 that connects the South Shore with Montreal Island.
One tempest began Aug. 18 when a media outlet claimed it had obtained documents that purportedly concluded that it would be cheaper to replace the Champlain Bridge than to keep repairing it. Those documents would have come either from the Federal Bridge Corporation Limited or its subsidiary, Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Inc., (JCCBI), which operates and maintains the bridge.
The next day Federal Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon was quoted in another article as having said that the federal government is serious about replacing Montreal’s Champlain bridge.
Quebec politicians got into the act in the same article, welcoming the possibility of a new bridge, how it could save on maintenance costs…Then on Sept. 16 yet another article reported that the bridge is deteriorating steadily (as is everything in this universe, by the way), has critical structural problems and needs immediate repairs.
So should the bridge trolls be put on evacuation alert and drivers wriggle into their ‘chutes? Not according to Andre Girard, the vice-president of communications with the Federal Bridge Corporation.
“Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon did not say that it was cheaper to replace the Champlain Bridge than it is to repair it. He said that he would ask JCCBI to do a study on the development options for its maintenance in the next 10 years, and discuss the option of replacing the bridge eventually. The question is what the best cost/benefit scenario is to minimize the cost of maintenance. There is no conclusion that it will be cheaper to replace the bridge than to repair it.”
And, noted Girard,”The bridge is very, very safe.” •