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New Champlain Bridge won’t be ready until 2019

Click to play video 'Champlain Bridge work delayed by construction setbacks' Champlain Bridge work delayed by construction setbacks
WATCH: The new Champlain Bridge, which was set to open in December, won't be delivered on time. As Global's Billy Shields explains, the consortium in charge of the bridge construction blames a crane operator strike, the summer heat wave and a lightning strike for the delays.

The new Champlain Bridge, which links Montreal to the South Shore, will not be open to traffic by the Dec. 21 deadline.

François-Philippe Champagne, the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, confirmed commuters will be able to use the new infrastructure by June 2019 at the latest.

At a news briefing Thursday morning, Champagne said work was progressing nicely.

While the physical structure of the bridge is expected to be completed by the December deadline — only a 37.5-metre span over the St.Lawrence Seaway remains to be built — finishing work, which includes paving and waterproofing the slab, has to be pushed back to spring.

Champagne said finishing work is done to ensure the durability of the bridge.

WATCH: François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, explains that penalties will be imposed for the late delivery of the new Champlain Bridge.

Click to play video 'Champlain Bridge opening delayed to 2019' Champlain Bridge opening delayed to 2019
Champlain Bridge opening delayed to 2019

READ MORE: Building the new Champlain Bridge: A race against time

The new spring deadline, however, does not include the completion of a pedestrian and cyclist path.

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The Conseil du patronat du Québec (CPQ) — an institution dedicated to promoting business interests in Québec — issued a statement defending the decision to delay the opening, calling it a “reasonable and justified” delay.

“Given the impact of this strategic project for Québec’s economy and worker mobility, it is important to do things right,” said CPQ president Yves-Thomas Dorval.

The CPQ emphasized the importance of the new bridge for the implementation of the Réseau Express Métropolitain (REM), another major project aimed at improving mobility in the Greater Montreal area.

The REM is a light-rail network that, once completed, will link downtown Montreal, the north and south shore, the West Island and Trudeau airport.

WATCH: New Champlain Bridge now expected to open December 21

Click to play video 'Champlain Bridge to now open Dec. 21' Champlain Bridge to now open Dec. 21
Champlain Bridge to now open Dec. 21

 Postponing the completion date, however, didn’t come as much of a surprise.

In May, Canada’s Auditor General Michael Ferguson released a report saying that the bridge would most likely be delayed. At the time, Ferguson’s office called plans to deliver by Dec. 21 “ambitious” and the report cited cost overruns, delays and changes to the initial plans that could delay the delivery of the span.

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The Champlain Bridge is expected to cost $4.2 billion, but if penalties are enforced, the cost could balloon.

Contractually, the contractor must pay $100,000 per day for the first week the project is late, then $400,000 for for every subsequent day.

READ MORE: Blasting at site of future Edouard-Montpetit REM station raises concerns

Champagne said discussions to deal with the issue were on the table.

“When there are delays, there are consequences,” he said. “Both sides will be looking at the contractual terms and conditions. There will be discussions and there will be legal and financial consequences.”

Despite the delays, Champagne said the focus was on delivering a new bridge.

“It’s one of the most important projects in North America,” he said. “I must commend all the workers on the site to have built something like that in about three years and a half — it’s quite astonishing.”

Signature on the Saint Lawrence (SSL) — the consortium tasked with overseeing the project — said it is proud of the work of its team and “remains committed to delivering a quality bridge without compromising on safety.”

The Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Inc. (JCCBI) says it is prepared to keep the existing bridge open until December 2019, but that could incur additional costs of $10 million.

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“The most likely work will be local repairs to the concrete, joints and slabs, plus constant monitoring and inspections of the structure,” JCCBI said in a tweet.

— With files from Global’s Kalina Laframboise and Billy Shields