The Île-aux-Tourtes bridge, which connects Montreal's West Island to Vaudreuil-Dorion via Highway 40, has been shut down for safety reasons, leading to long delays as traffic is rerouted.
Transport Minister François Bonnardel announced the closure Thursday afternoon.
By about 5 p.m., traffic was being diverted and drivers were encouraged to avoid the area altogether.
Commuters early Friday were also facing long delays. The province is providing an update on the situation this morning.
Eastbound drivers in Vaudreuil-Dorion were diverted to St-Charles Street while westbound drivers in Senneville were diverted to a U-turn just before the bridge.
It is not clear how long the bridge will be closed, but the Ministry of Transport says in a statement that the bridge will be closed while emergency work is carried out to reinforce the structure.
This announcement comes after officials closed a westbound lane on the bridge about a week ago as a preventive measure.
While carrying out repair work, crews noticed damage to reinforcement rods. Since the structure could have been weakened by this damage, complete closure is considered the only responsible option to ensure motorists' safety, Thursday's statement says.
MTQ offers free commuter train
Traffic will be diverted by highways 20 and 30.
The ministry has cancelled the toll on Highway 30 until the bridge reopens.
The Vaudreuil-Hudson commuter train line will also be free until then as well, and police will be deployed to "strategic locations" to help traffic along, the statement says.
While traffic is reduced with so many people working from home during the pandemic, tens of thousands of motorists travel on Highway 40 every day. In peak times, roughly 83,000 vehicles use the Île-aux-Tourtes bridge daily, including 9,000 trucks.
The ministry says it "is aware that this closure will have significant repercussions on traffic and thanks road users for their co-operation. When possible, it is recommended to favour public transport or to work from home."
The Quebec government's plan to replace the bridge has been in the making for some time.
In 2019, Chantal Rouleau, the province's junior transport minister, said the bridge would have three lanes in each direction, in addition to reserved bus lanes and a multi-use lane for cyclists and pedestrians.
There is nothing planned in connection with Montreal's upcoming light-rail project, the REM. But Rouleau said the new bridge will be planned to potentially accommodate light-rail technology in the future.
The existing structure, built in 1965, has had to undergo costly repairs in recent years.
By 2018, the government had already injected $87 million to maintain the bridge and another $45 million was expected to be spent by 2028.
Politicians, commuters concerned about traffic
The mayor of L'Île-Perrot, Pierre Séguin, told Radio-Canada that he now worries about traffic, recalling the congestion during the spring of 2019 when the Galipeault bridge was suddenly shut down because of concerns about high water levels.
Now, he said, tens of thousands of vehicles are being diverted to the Galipeault bridge which is already crossed by up to 60,000 motorists per day.
Vaudreuil resident Jorge Iatros is one of the those drivers who usually crosses the Île-aux-Tourtes daily for work.
"I just don't know what feasible alternative there is for everyone to get home in Vaudreuil and Saint-Lazare and Hudson," he said.
"It seems like our infrastructure is lagging. It's frustrating because this is something we have known about for years and years."
Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue Mayor Paola Hawa is also worried about traffic because, she said, "the reality is, apart from Île-aux-Tourtes bridge, there's one other bridge to get off the island. What other options are you going to find?"