Motorists expressing concerns over crossing Nipigon River Bridge

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Nipigon River Bridge
Facebook / Northern Ontario Traffic Alerts – Alertes Routiers

Motorists have been using social media to express their concerns over crossing the Nipigon River Bridge after the West end of the deck suddenly lifted approximately 60 cm at an expansion joint late Sunday afternoon. The event continues to send ripples across the Country as many have come to realize the impact and implications when Canada’s only major artery, the Trans-Canada Highway 17, is severed.

Nipigon River MapMany quickly found themselves stranded on a cold Winter’s night in a remote part of Northern Ontario with the only alternate route requiring entry into the United States. For East and West bound travellers transiting through the area, this option would’ve most likely required a passport or other form of accepted identification. For commercial traffic like tractor-trailers hauling everyday goods, this meant having the necessary documentation required to cross into the U.S., something they most likely wouldn’t normally need hauling cargo across Canada.

Timeline

November 29th, 2015

Nipigon Bridge
hatchmott.com/projects/nipigon-river-bridge

The first half of the new Nipigon River Bridge, Ontario’s first cable-stayed bridge opens after 3 years of construction. The completed bridge will feature three towers with cables supporting the bridge deck and a separate sidewalk for pedestrians.

Bot Ferrovial Nipigon Joint Venture was awarded the $106-million contract, and expects the project to be completed in 2017. In 2013, Hatch Mott MacDonald was retained by MTO to provide Construction Contract Administration for the duration of the construction.

A press release from the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines on March 8th, 2013 was exciting “The construction of a new cable-stayed bridge along the Highway 11-17 expansion east of Thunder Bay will make travel easier and safer for families and businesses while strengthening tourism and the economy in the north.”, Minister Gravelle said, “Thanks to the Northern Highways Program, the expansion of the Highway 11-17 corridor will continue with this exciting project. The Nipigon River Bridge will be a very bold and striking structure that will be more than a vital link for traffic on this expanded part of the TransCanada Highway. It will be a landmark structure that will not only serve drivers but also become a destination attraction in its own right.”

January 10th, 2016

Damage to Nipigon River Bridge
Northern Ontario Traffic Alerts – Alertes Routiers

At approximately 3:15pm on Sunday, January 10th The Nipigon Detachment of the OPP received a report that the Nipigon River Bridge on Hwy 17 had lifted and was blocking traffic. After confirming the report, a press release was issued at 3:35pm advising that the bridge was closed for an indefinite time due to mechanical issues. Approximately an hour later, the MTO issued another release advising that Highways 17 and 11 were closed at the Nipigon River Bridge while conditions were being assessed.

Ashley Littlefield of Dorion, ON watched it happen. She stated that “if you put a piece of paper on the table and blow hard under one corner, is exactly how it happened. It just lifted, didn’t hear anything.” She estimated that the bridge rose 2-3 feet as shown in her photo below.

Nipigon River Bridge
photo courtesy of Ashley Littlefield

Thankfully no injuries or damage had been reported as a result of the incident, but both travellers and commercial traffic found themselves stranded with the only alternate route available requiring entry into the United States. A logistical nightmare to many as Canada found itself cut in half.

Communities in the area soon after declared States of Emergency and organizations like the Nipigon Community Centre and the Nipigon Baptist Church quickly stepped up to provide lodging and hot meals for stranded motorists. Arrangements were also made for local residents stranded on the wrong side of the bridge. They were allowed to walk the bridge where transportation awaited to return them to their homes. Metal sheeting was also placed over the lifted expansion joint to ensure emergency response vehicles like ambulances and fire trucks could still transit the bridge should an emergency arise.

January 11th, 2016

Damage to Nipigon River Bridge
Northern Ontario Traffic Alerts – Alertes Routiers

Engineers and crews worked throughout the night, stacking a number of concrete barriers to weigh down the lifted bridge deck. At approximately 9:00am, a single lane was re-opened to cars and trucks with a gross vehicle weight up to 63,500 kg and a maximum horizontal clearance of 4 metres. Alternating traffic was also restricted to 25 km/h with flag crews and signage present to ensure the safety of both motorists and workers present.

Statements Released

Ontario Minister of Transportation, the Hon. Steven Del Duca:

“As Ontario’s Minister of Transportation, my number one priority is the safety of all roads and highways in this province.

On Sunday afternoon, the OPP closed the Nipigon River Bridge to traffic due to safety concerns.

Ministry staff worked through the night to rectify the situation, using counterweights to level the bridge surface. An engineering inspection was also completed to ensure the safety of the bridge and the travelling public.

Keeping Ontario moving is a shared priority of all involved, and I commend the hardworking crews who laboured throughout the night to return this important piece of highway infrastructure to the safe, driving condition all Canadians expect.

As of this statement, one lane is open for cars and regular weight transports.  Staff are continuing to work to determine when oversized trucks can use the bridge

Crews remain on site to identify the cause of the issue and updates from MTO will be communicated as they become available. For the latest information on highway closures, the public can call 511, MTO’s Road Information Line or check www.Ontario.ca/511.

My colleague Minister Michael Gravelle will be visiting Nipigon River Bridge this morning. I look forward to visiting the site later this week to survey the site myself and I will provide a further update at that time.

Again, I would like to thank all affected travellers, the local First Nations communities and townspeople along Highway 11/17 for their patience and understanding as we took the necessary steps to return this piece of critical infrastructure back to service.”

NDP Joint Statement

NDP joint statement on damaged Nipigon River Bridge from Northern Development Critic Michael Mantha, and NDP Transportation Critic Wayne Gates

“The failure of Nipigon River Bridge shows the Liberal government’s mismanagement of Northern Ontario’s roads and highways.

The $106 million Nipigon River Bridge has been open for less than two months, and it failed in its first encounter with a northern Ontario winter. Thank goodness no one was seriously injured or died.

The bridge is the transport lifeline for Northern communities and for commerce across the province. The closure of the bridge separated families and workers throughout Northern Ontario. Now with only partial repair, the faulty bridge is seriously hampering movement of families, workers and commerce throughout Northern Ontario and the province,” said Wayne Gates, MPP for Niagara Falls and the NDP’s Transportation critic.

“Many companies in Northern Ontario depend on the bridge to transport product across the country. This will hurt industry and many small communities will be economically impacted with less motorists passing through.

Northerners deserve answers now from this government about when Nipigon River Bridge will be fully operational and safe for use.

Right now, the Liberal government’s infrastructure plan for Northern Ontario seems to be: ‘drive through the United States,” said Michael Mantha, MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin and the NDP’s Northern Development and Mines critic.