Sunday, October 01, 2006

London (er... Laval) Bridges Falling Down

Over at MyBlahg, Robert questions whether tax cuts have starved our ability to keep USSR-style horrors like this from happening here in Canada. But this is a made-in-Quebec situation.

1) The Quebec Transport ministry has a dismal record. Everyone knows we can't be bothered to build roads properly and, as evidenced by PQ leader Andre Boisclair's recent comment - that he knows an election is around the corner because he's "never smelled so much asphalt poured" - decisions regarding the building of infrastructure in this province have traditionally revolved around political considerations first and foremost. Laval is a perfect example, where Bernard Landry's former PQ government went the vote-buying route with its big-money pre-election decision - still under construction - to extend the orange line of the Metro into Laval for three needless new stations. Buses and trains currently do an adequate job for Laval's commuters, and this decision just encourages more urban sprawl.

2) For decades, we poured craploads of salt on our winter roads (in recent years in Montreal, we've turned to less damaging mixtures consisting of a little salt and a lot of sand). One engineer's perspective in this morning's Gazette was that the steel supports for the viaduct in question may have snapped in a domino effect due to salt-induced rust that took 15 years off its expected lifespan.

3. (Pure non-expert top-of-my-head speculation here): The acid rain factor. I have visited Columbus, Ohio a few times this year and the difference in the state of their concrete is staggeringly obvious. Here, a sidewalk or other concrete structure starts to erode after only a few years, damaged heavily by sulphur-dioxide laden acid rain (thanks in no small part to coal-fired electrical plants in places such as - you guessed it - Ohio).

4) Inspectors for Transport Quebec who are responsible for making annual check-ups on viaducts aren't themselves engineers (again, props to some excellent local reporting in this morning's Gazette). They have some training, but they aren't yet using the kinds of diagnostic tools that could've predicted the evidently sorry state of the viaduct in question. Add to that that it apparently hadn't received its supposedly annual inspection yet this year since Transport Quebec confirmed it was last inspected in 2005.

Now that we have four confirmed dead, a coroner's inquest is unquestionably in order. The big question will be why no action was taken to close off the roads immediately after it was reported by concerned citizens that concrete chunks had fallen from the structure. A precious hour was lost between the first such report and the eventual collapse of the viaduct. Prudence surely dictates that this sort of situation be taken more seriously in future.

This is indeed a wake-up call. I suspect this is a problem rooted more in typical Quebec provincial mismanagement than mis-allocation of tax dollars. When successive governments' attentions are focussed primarily on how to obtain more powers from the federal government to negate seperatists' debating points; or how to attain "winnable conditions" for a yes vote on separation, who does that leave to concentrate on making sure the trains run on time. Or in this case, that the bridges don't fall down?

- 30 -


James Bow said...

I think the problem may be more widespread than you think. Consider these events which happened last year in Toronto:

- Complete washout of Finch Avenue bridge over the Black Creek. Major artery offline for months.
- Collapse of roadway at Sheppard Avenue near the Don Valley bridge due to a sinkhole started by a broken water main.
- Collapse of the intersection at Jane and Highway 7 due to a sinkhole. Intersection offline for months, causing major traffic delays.

Throughout this country, we've been running an infrastructure deficit of more than $2 billion per year for a number of years, now. I fear the chickens may be coming home to roost.

PatChe said...

I've no hard evidence to back this up but isn't the problem mostly based on the type of society that we've been aspiring to build ?

Clogged arteries, traffic jams, broken roads, car accidents, and even road rage (whatever that excuse of a syndrome is… but I digress.) are symptomatic of the pipedreams that our culture of mobility propagates every day. It isn't unusual that the provinces, Quebec and others, have been behind the dreamtime in repairing the existing grid work that connects us form point a. to point b, because they’ve also been busy figuring out and adding point’s c. d. e. f. and g. and points a.1. and b.1 to support our every expanding desires to get around. I grant, road structures in Ontario are in better shape than this province but it goes without saying that Ontario is investing in their road structures and paying the big bucks for it… at the cost of higher rents, higher services, less services, privatized hydro etc...

The solution… there is none useless we’re prepared to pay more for better concrete, for better materials than asphalt to cover our roads, and while we’re at it pay for means of transportation that actually reduce the need for the such colossal infrastructures, and that, ironically enough, contributes to the causticity of the environment.

I mean why aren’t we using more trains to move goods rather than Mac trucks that erode the road systems at astonishing rate. Cost.

And somewhere in that I don't think it's just about money.

Well that’s about it for now on that issue.

Great blogg scott,