New Champlain Bridge could be delayed, consortium warns in $124M lawsuit against Ottawa

Inattention to safety played role in sinking of tugboat near Champlain Bridge, says TSB

The new Champlain Bridge is at risk of being delayed, according to a lawsuit filed today by the consortium overseeing the project.

Signature on the Saint Lawrence (SSL) — a consortium led by SNC-Lavalin — is suing the federal government for nearly $124 million, alleging it wasn't forewarned that the existing bridge couldn't bear the weight required to transport important pieces to the worksite.

According to documents filed in Quebec Superior Court, it's possible the bridge won't be ready for its deadline: Dec. 1, 2018. 

The consortium says it created a proposal for the project in February 2015 based on the ability to transport loads of up to 80 tonnes using the provincial road network and existing Champlain Bridge.

According to documents filed in Quebec Superior Court, the provincial Transport Ministry sent Infrastructure Canada a letter in March 2015 stating it would be limiting the loads permitted on the existing bridge to 65 tonnes.

Beginning in April, the consortium and representative from Infrastructure Canada met either weekly or biweekly to discuss the project, but the consortium was never informed of the weight restrictions, the documents say.

The project agreement between the federal government and the consortium was signed the following June, but the consortium says it was only told about the weight restrictions more than a year later.

Those restrictions prevented it using the bridge to transport pre-cast concrete and structural steel elements needed to build the new bridge, the consortium says.

It was forced to come up with alternate routes, "resulting in substantial cost and scheduling issues," the documents say, including additional labour, road transportation, port operations and insurance.

Infrastructure Canada said it is committed to ensuring the safety of Champlain Bridge users, in a statement sent to CBC. It added that "certain technical issues can arise during the construction period," but that they "have mechanisms within our contract to ensure issues of this type can be effectively resolved."

They said they would make no other comments because the case is before the courts. The SSL declined to comment for the same reason.

Last July, federal Minister of Infrastructure Amarjeet Sohi said the $4.25-billion span, which will link Montreal to the South Shore, was on schedule and on budget.

The lawsuit was not specific about what kind of delays the project could be facing. On its website, Infrastructure Canada states that if the new bridge is not open to traffic by Dec. 31, 2018, the consortium could face monetary penalties.

The current bridge, the busiest in Canada, was built in 1962 but has been deteriorating in recent years.

In 2011, when it was announced that the bridge would be replaced, an estimated 140,000 cars were using it each day.