A little more than a week ago, a member of one of the local Facebook pages for residents of Vaudreuil, St-Lazare and Hudson posted about how much less stressed he was feeling and how much his mental health had improved since a third lane on the Île-aux-Tourtes Bridge reopened after a nine-month closure, drastically reducing daily gridlock.
This sense of relief was widely shared in off-island communities where the bridge is a constant source of anxiety. But I immediately feared he had jinxed it, given the iffy state of this critical piece of infrastructure.
Sure enough, after just two months of comparatively smooth sailing on the aging span that links one of the fastest-growing areas of Quebec to the island of Montreal, a new crack was detected during the weekend. The third lane was hastily removed to ease the load on the bridge. And the all-too-familiar congestion was back Monday morning, for who knows how long this time.
Transport Quebec is conducting more inspections this week, which it says are particularly necessary during freeze-thaw cycles. And the ministry warns that additional lane closures may be necessary depending on what it finds. So as if this latest setback wasn’t bad enough, there’s a looming possibility things might yet get worse.
The Île-aux-Tourtes, built in 1965, is at the end of its lifespan. It’s in the process of being replaced. A brand new bridge will be built alongside the old one, with the first section scheduled to open in 2026 (knock on wood). But it’s a race against time, given how badly the structure is deteriorating.
In the meantime, the 87,000 daily users of the bridge wait and worry obsessively — trading traffic reports, venting frustrations and engaging in dark humour on social media. For good reason.
In May 2021, the span was completely shut down for two weeks for emergency repairs after “human error” by one of the contractors maintaining it weakened the already precarious structure, unleashing the stuff of nightmares on those who depend on the Île-aux-Tourtes to get to work or school, or simply get to and from Montreal for any reason. Extra commuter trains were added, but the limited public transit connections don’t make sense for everyone.
Then last December, the third lane that reverses direction during the morning and evening rush hours was removed with no notice in order to conduct emergency repairs. Although officials promised it would return once the snow melted, the lane closure dragged on until late September. During that time, people became inured to daily traffic jams, knowing every accident, mishap or weekend lane restriction made an already grim situation torturous.
The despair and frustration were very real — until the extra lane for rush hour reappeared, to widespread celebration.
So I couldn’t help but think of this poor motorist who made the prematurely hopeful post when the lane was taken away again without warning. The indefinite closure was announced at 6:19 p.m. on Friday — effective immediately. These decisions take an incalculable toll on people’s lives, livelihoods and well-being. But such consequences are never taken into account.
This holds true as well for those who rely on the Louis-Hippolyte-La Fontaine Tunnel. Half of the six-lane link between east-end Montreal and the South Shore was closed with little notice just over a year ago — and for a period of three years, no less. One of the tubes was found to be in worse shape than previously believed. Shuttle buses were put in service and free transit tickets were handed out to ease the pain. But it’s nevertheless a major headache for drivers of 120,000 vehicles a day who used the tunnel.
Doubts about the security of the structure must obviously take precedence, given Quebec’s history of deadly infrastructure failures and near misses. With the Souvenir overpass collapse in 2000, the foundering of the de la Concorde viaduc in 2006 and the piece of the ceiling that fell in the Viger Tunnel of the Ville-Marie Expressway in 2011, Quebec has learned the hard way not to take risks with public safety.
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But is the Transport Ministry taking it seriously enough? A recent report flagged inadequate inspections and lax oversight of contractors’ sometimes shoddy work on both the La Fontaine Tunnel and Île-aux-Tourtes Bridge, suggesting it is not.
It’s alarming to think that delayed maintenance made these critical pieces of infrastructure too dangerous to use at their full capacity. But it’s equally aggravating to see that some of this massive inconvenience could have been avoided or reduced.
That just adds insult to injury for people subjected to a daily dose of misery all over again.