Quebec Transport Minster François Bonnardel announced a gradual reopening of the Île-aux-Tourtes bridge starting next Monday.
Under the plan, one lane in each direction is slated to reopen as of May 31 with more lanes added each subsequent Monday.
“The situation is not good for all the workers and drivers and we understand that it’s difficult for them,” Bonnardel said. “We hope that for the next weeks we’ll reopen the first lane before Monday but we not sure. If we can do faster we’ll do it.”
On June 7, two lanes will be open during peak hours in the direction with the most traffic and one in the opposite direction.
On June 14, two lanes will be open in each direction with a complete reopening of three lanes in each direction expected by June 21.
The vital link connecting the western tip of the Island of Montreal to Vaudreuil-Dorion in the Montérégie was closed last Thursday after reinforcement rods inside the bridge were damaged by crews doing maintenance work.
At the time, Bonnardel said the the damaged rods may have weakened the structure prompting the emergency closure for safety reasons.
The minister said Tuesday the government’s objective is to get the bridge reopened as soon as possible.
To do so, it devised its plan based on available materials to avoid any potential delays in procurement.
Necessary work includes replacing the damaged rods, adding external reinforcement structures and continuing reinforcing beams with carbon fibre reinforced polymer.
The span along Highway 40 is heavily used. Data from 2019 suggests more than 80,000 vehicles cross the bridge every day, 12 per cent of which are transport trucks.
The closure of the bridge has created traffic nightmares for commuters and prompted some school boards to move classes online for affected schools. Other schools cancelled classes on Tuesday as they decide how best to move forward.
Traffic mitigation measures put in place last week, including waiving the toll on Highway 30 and free commuter train service on the exo1 Vaudreuil-Hudson line will remain in place until the span reopens.
Junior Transport Minister Chantal Rouleau said more exo commuter trains will also be added during peak hours.
Two extra rush hour stops were also added at the Hudson station, in a bid to give residents in the area more flexibility and to help avoid travel towards Vaudreuil.
Rouleau reiterated that those who can, should consider working from home or use public transit when possible.
Last week Bonnardel described the 56-year-old bridge as a complex end-of-life structure, requiring regular interventions.
While the construction of a new bridge was in the planning stages, Bonnardel admitted officials are trying to speed things up in light of recent events.
“We hope that with the work I will do with my colleagues… to maybe start the work of the new bridge at the end of spring 2023,” he said.
That would move the project ahead by six months.
The new structure will be built north of the existing span with a completion date set for the end of 2026 or the beginning of 2027.
— With files from Global’s Kalina Laframboise