NIPIGON, ON — A new bridge across the Nipigon River on Hwy. 11/17 — the TransCanada — about 100 km east of Thunder Bay, failed Sunday afternoon, effectively severing cross-Canada traffic, but officials reported early Monday that one lane of the bridge has been re-opened. An expansion joint has apparently broken where the bridge joins an abutment connecting it to the river bank’s edge, lifting one side of the bridge as much as two feet — 60 cm — above the other. And making vehicle traffic impossible at first.
Part of the newly constructed cable-stayed bridge, not yet finished, was just opened last November but cold temperatures have by all accounts proven too much for it. Bolts snapped in the expansion joint on the two new westbound lanes, which had been carrying two-way traffic.
According to a CBC report, Ontario Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca has said his ministry “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.”
There may be some hope that the eastbound lanes of the old bridge being replaced, presently closed for demolition in advance of further construction, could be temporarily re-opened. Late Sunday night, with engineers on site to assess the situation, no solution had been announced.
With the Trans-Canada highway closed — the only road connecting eastern and western Canada — the main option for eastbound cross-country trucks is to head south of the border at Thunder Bay and travel U.S. roads south of Lake Superior to Sault Ste. Marie, ON, or vice versa for westbound drivers. The detour is about 1000 km and 12 hours long.
Another option is to drive to or from Winnipeg in the U.S. via the Sault. That’s a 14-hour trip.
There is no alternate route to the north.
The options wouldn’t help many Canadian truck drivers, like those pulling B-trains, whose trucks simply aren’t legal in the U.S. Nor will it help drivers presently stuck in the mess without the requisite border-crossing documentation.
Local and regional traffic effectively has no option at all, and some communities near the bridge have had to declare states of emergency.
Reports say that eastbound vehicle traffic was being turned back to Terrace Bay, and the Nipigon Community Centre is open as a refuge for stranded travellers. Westbound traffic was being advised of the bridge closure via MTO highway signs. Information is also available on nearly all northern Ontario media sites, Ontario511, Twitter feeds, and Facebook.
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