Federal transportation minister to make Champlain Bridge announcement
MONTREAL - Drivers who depend on the Champlain Bridge to get to and from the South Shore are hoping Federal Transportation Minister Denis Lebel will announce today that the battered, decrepit bridge is being replaced.
The Prime Minister's Office confirmed that Lebel will be in Montreal on Wednesday for an announcement, but no one in Ottawa wanted to confirm exactly what the federal government is planning.
According to a report in La Presse, Lebel is set to announce a new $2-billion toll bridge will be built by 2021 as a public-private partnership.
Speaking at a Montreal Chamber of Commerce event Tuesday, Mayor Gerald Tremblay said he spoke recently with Lebel regarding the future of the bridge.
He said he hopes the government begins the process of building a new bridge "as quickly as possible."
If Wednesday's announcement is indeed for a PPP-built toll bridge, the mayor would be very happy as long as it includes reserved lanes for public transit.
"If we want to not have discussions about how to finance it, where's the money going to come from?" Tremblay said. "Let's just put tolls in place and do it as soon as possible."
Provincial Transportation Minister Pierre Moreau disagrees.
"I think that there is a lot of problem there because you have local commuting from Brossard to Montreal, and these people have no other option, it's not possible for them to go from the Champlain Bridge to the Jacques-Cartier Bridge," said Moreau.
"It's a not a privilege to work in Montreal."
Chamber of Commerce president Michel Leblanc once again voiced the concern of the Montreal business community over a potential "interruption in service" on the span while a new bridge is being built, especially since the Turcot Interchange will be rebuilt in the next few years.
"Eventually you have to have that new bridge built while the current bridge still functions well and while the access is as fluid as possible," he said.
The Conservatives have refused to commit to building a new bridge, and Lebel has continued to talk about the money freed up by his government to conduct repairs.
The poor state of the Champlain Bridge has been an issue for years, and this past spring both the Liberal Party and NDP promised they would build a replacement if they were elected.
"I will say that we need a new bridge," reiterated NDP Interim leader Nycole Turmel on Tuesday. "There have been studies. It's time for action. It's time for the economy, to make sure that we have a new bridge to help the region.
The federal Transport Ministry announced in March that it would spend $158 million to repair the Champlain Bridge over the next three years, but critics said that was not enough.
The government was widely criticized in July over its refusal to release the latest safety report on the bridge, only to turn around and make it public one day later.
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The Champlain Bridge was built in 1962 and at the time handled 5,000 vehicles a day.
Now the most-travelled bridge in Canada handles more than 150,000 vehicles daily, and traffic jams to and from the South Shore are routine.
Two separate reports commissioned by the federal bridge authority stated that parts of the structure are doomed to collapse.
A 2010 report by the engineering firm Delcan indicated the 49-year-old span was in such poor shape that maintenance costs alone would be $18-$25 million annually for the next decade, requiring ever-longer closures.
The same report says that a replacement bridge would cost at least $1.3 billion, while a tunnel would cost $1.9 billion, however those numbers could climb as high as $2 billion for the bridge and $3 billion for the tunnel.
Numerous variables could send the price skyward, including the type of bridge or tunnel project chosen and the type of financing model used, such as a public-private partnership, which would be the most expensive avenue in terms of total cost, according to the report.
One possibility reportedly being tossed around is an eight-lane structure built to the east of the Champlain Bridge, that would reserve two lanes for public transit.
But whatever the model, Brossard Mayor Paul Leduc says he just wants to see some action, and soon.
"It's important for (Lebel) to announce that it's the beginning of the construction of a new bridge," he said. "You know it takes about 10 to 12 years to construct a new bridge, so it's time to act now."