The Nipigon Catastrophe: Latest Updates

Rolf Lockwood

NIPIGON, ON — While drivers and fleets, and certainly local residents, await word on the status of repairs to the Nipigon River Bridge, the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) has offered some useful new information. In a word, things are improving, but it looks as if the results of an engineering assessment won’t be ready for another couple of days at best.

To re-cap just a little, police closed the vital bridge on the TransCanada Highway about 100 km east of Thunder Bay yesterday afternoon after an expansion joint failed and lifted one section of the bridge deck about two feet above another. With that closure, many trucks and other vehicles were stranded and some local communities declared states of emergency.

There is no alternate route, aside from skirting the southern side of Lake Superior through the U.S.

Earlier today one lane of the bridge was re-opened and vehicles were slowly crossing the bridge, alternating between eastward and westward traffic. A pace vehicle leads the way, limiting speeds to 25 km/h across the bridge. Each commercial truck requires an escort vehicle to cross, by all accounts.

There are weight issues for some trucks, however.

To quote a news flash from the OTA, “…trucks operating above Highway Traffic Act (HTA) limits for weight will not be permitted to cross the bridge at this time. OTA has confirmed this includes all loads operating under MTO single-trip oversize/overweight permits. The MTO permits office has advised carriers with existing single-trip permits of this issue and has ceased the issuance of any further single-trip permits until further notice. Current and future applicants will also be advised by MTO of these restrictions as permit applications are submitted. Loads operating under MTO’s annual oversize permits will still be accommodated as their weights are within HTA limits and their width does not exceed the horizontal restrictions currently on the bridge.”

And for those contemplating the U.S. route — assuming Interstate-legal weights and configurations, i.e. no B-trains — the OTA has been working to clarify the tricky matter of documentation.

“Canadian carriers should know they are legally able to move Canadian goods in transit through the U.S.” the OTA says, “provided the carrier is able to supply an eManifest to U.S. Customs (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.

“We have been in contact with USCBP and the Government of Canada throughout the day about the possibility to temporarily consider allowing paper in-transits without value for the purposes of an emergency contingency. An update on this front could be forthcoming.”

Intriguingly, there have been discussions about a possible contingency route north of Hwy. 11/17. But it’s presently a bush trail. Really.

“OTA has been in discussions with provincial and municipal authorities about the feasibility and practicality of opening up a bush trail several kilometers north of the bridge, which bypasses the bridge and reconnects with Highway 11,” the Association’s last update said. “There are no guarantees the road – which in its current state is not serviceable for commercial vehicles – would be approved as a viable alternate route for carriers, but OTA continues to seriously explore this and other options with transportation officials.”

Images of the Dempster Highway in the 1940s are springing to mind. Bring on the D8s.

Rolf Lockwood

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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