MONTREAL -- Piece by piece, the old Champlain bridge is finally coming down. Just don’t expect it to happen quickly.

“Basically deconstruction is not a demolition, it’s much more delicate,” said Nathalie Lessard, the communications director for the Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated. “So basically we we are going to dismantle section by section, delicately, so as to reduce the impact on the environment, reduce the impact on citizens around.”

The contract to dismantle the bridge was signed at the end of June. The entire process is expected to take around 3.5 years. The bridge authority added 7 more months to the timeline than previously estimated, because of the pandemic, accounting for a potential losses in efficiency, and problems with the supply chain.

The extra costs associated with COVID-19 measures will be tacked on to the current $225 million dismantling price tag.

“For example they will need probably extra trailers, extra boats etc to ensure social distancing of the workers,” said Lessard.

She adds they’re accounting for loss of time, loss of efficiency, and potential problems with the supply chain.

It’s a bridge many Montrealers have been longing to bid adieu. It first opened to traffic in 1962 and by the 1990s serious flaws in the design became apparent. That lead to decades of costly repair work and frequent, frustrating road closures.

Workers began preparations to slowly tear it down this week and will begin removing some of the structural components from the bridge starting Monday. The heavy work will get underway mid-August, and will involve deconstructing the abutment, two of the spans and one pier, on the Nun’s Island side of the Champlain.

The bridge authority has already notified residents of Nun’s Island to expect more noise, dust and occasional traffic issues.

“Of course we will be monitoring the noise levels and also air quality in the area,” said Lessard.

The plan is to recycle some of the 300,000 tonnes of debris, consisting of materials like concrete, steel and asphalt. The bridge authority is also hoping some municipalities will want to reuse parts of the Champlain for other infrastructure projects.

“We can imagine the buttresses that were added under the bridge to reinforce it, there’s a hundred of them,” said Lessard. “They can be used to create a small bridge, for pedestrians in a park or cyclists. So we are discussing with other cities and organizations how they can reuse the material.”

While the operation is going forward at a slow and steady pace, the deconstruction activities are likely to disturb fish habitats and other aquatic life near the bridge. Compensation projects are already underway to off-set any negative impact.

“We’re going to develop a farmland into a grassy flood plain,” explained Lessard. “Basically we are creating an area that will allow fish to spawn and also maintain biodiversity.”

The bridge authority will be publishing the full dismantling schedule and methods that will be used, later in the year on its website. Public consultations are expected to be held in the fall.