MONTREAL - The federal Liberal party is harshly criticizing the government for its lack of action on the Champlain Bridge.

Liberal leader Bob Rae said the Harper government has spent five years dithering instead of putting the degrading bridge on a fast-track to being replaced.

This week federal Transport Minister Denis Lebel refused to release reports analyzing the safety of the Champlain Bridge out of fears it would worry the public.

On Wednesday the government changed its tune and released the Pre-feasibility Study Concerning the Replacement of the Existing Champlain Bridge, written in February 2011.

The report explores various scenarios for building both a new bridge or replacing the existing structure with a tunnel, along with basic, preliminary cost analyses for either option.

However Rae says the government has other reports that have not been made public, and was unequivocal in saying those unreleased reports indicate the Champlain Bridge needs to be replaced as soon as possible.

"Even now we do not have all the information which is at the base of these reports," said Rae.

"The fact remains that we have wasted five years, five years in which work has not been done."

Quebec MP Denis Coderre agrees, saying that even if the government were to decide today to replace the span, it would take years to complete mandatory environmental impact studies before construction actually began.

As for the current state of the decrepit bridge, Coderre says it has him worried.

"I'm not sure I will take the Champlain bridge ever again," said Coderre.

With about 160,000 crossings a day, the Champlain Bridge is the busiest bridge in Canada. Rae says those who use the bridge need to be assured it's safe.

"Champlain Bridge users have had enough," concluded Rae. "They have the right to know the condition of the infrastructure they use every day, if the road they travel every morning and evening is safe and, above all, they have the right to know the government's time frame for finally building a new Champlain Bridge."

The report released Wednesday does not make any definitive recommendation to choose either a new bridge or building a tunnel.

However it is very clear in saying that trying to fix the 49-year-old Champlain Bridge would be an expensive and fruitless exercise, and that basic maintenance over the next decade will cost $18 to $25 million a year.

A new bridge would cost approximately $1.3 billion, and a new tunnel would cost $1.9 billion.

Regardless of the expense, Rae contends the bridge is a major component of Montreal's economic engine, and something must be done.

"Time's a-wasting here," Rae said.