Repairs to the surrounding Champlain Bridge, the busiest bridge in Canada and an economic lifeline for the area, has become a hot button issue in local political campaign ahead of the May 2 federal election.
The bridge has needed repairs since 2000, and there has been significantly increased repair work in the last three years. Yet, it is becoming apparent that repairs will not be sufficient, and local politicians have begun to lobby the government in hopes that a durable solution will be found.
Larry Smith, Conservative Party candidate for the Lac-St-Louis riding, announced on March 18 that the government would be adding an additional $158 million to the prior $212 million in funding that was announced in 2009. There has been no announcement of plans to build a new bridge.
Given the upcoming elections, some have interpreted the funding pledge as an attempt by the Conservatives to gain seats in Quebec.
“It was pretty insulting,” said Shawn Murphy spokesperson for Alexandra Mendes, Liberal MP for the Brossard-La Prairie riding. “We all know we need funds for repairs, but they made a big show of this announcement when it didn’t make much of a difference.”
Catherine Bérubé, spokesperson for the office of Catherine St-Hilaire, the mayor of Longueil, compared the efforts to repair the bridge to “putting a plaster in a big injury. It’s not really durable.”
“We are asking for a new bridge now because we need to stop patching and start finding solutions,” she said.
Deputy Mayor of Brossard Alexander Plante explained the time sensitivity of constructing a new bridge.
“They have to be ready to announce the construction of a new bridge now so it can be ready in ten years,” said Plante.
This echoes a report from the Delcan Corporation, which conducted an in-depth study on the safety of the bridge. The study concluded that the deficiencies and associated risks with the bridge would warrant its replacement as soon as possible, with ongoing repair work needed in order for the bridge to remain safe.
Jean-Vincent Lacroix is a spokesperson for Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated, which is handling the Champlain project. Lacroix said he was aware of the calls for a new bridge, but that multiple options for a long-term solution should be considered.
“We need to think of the future of the bridge,” said Lacroix. “Our main goal is to finish the studies in the next few weeks and give them to the government that will be in place after the coming election.”
According to Bérubé, both Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff have pledged their support for the bridge’s reconstruction. The Conservatives have yet to announce anything other than monetary support for repairs, though that may change as May 2 nears.