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Open the books on troubled Montreal bridge, Liberals tell Tories

It's not good enough for the Conservative government to release – under public pressure – a report that says it would cost $1.3-billion to replace Montreal's crumbling Champlain Bridge, the Liberals charge.

They want to see all of the safety reports written about the nearly 50-year-old structure. And they want the construction of a new bridge to begin immediately.

"We need to have all of the risk assessment data," transport critic Denis Coderre said in a telephone interview Tuesday after he and Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae held a news conference to demand the reports for the bridge be opened for all to see.

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"There is some data that they are hiding and we want to know why and we want to see it," Mr. Coderre added.

The government released a construction feasibility report Wednesday after Transport Minister Denis Lebel initially said it would remain secret because its contents could "create worries" he didn't want to create if it were read by people who were not "connoisseurs" of the subject matter.

It was a position that understandably created some worry for the drivers who must cross the bridge that connects the island of Montreal to the south-shore suburbs. After much outcry, the minister was forced to reverse his position.

But Mr. Coderre and Mr. Rae said the release of the report on the cost of future construction must be accompanied by status reports that will tell the people of Montreal whether or not the bridge is safe.

"Champlain Bridge users have had enough," Mr. Rae charged. "They have the right to know the condition of the infrastructure they use every day, if the road they travel every morning and evening is safe and, above all, they have the right to know the government's time frame for finally building a new Champlain Bridge."

Vanessa Schneider, a spokeswoman for the Transport Minister, said she has asked the bridge corporation for a list of all of the reports that have been completed about the bridge's condition. She pointed out, however, that detailed inspection information cannot be released for security reasons.

As to the Liberal request for additional studies, Ms. Schneider said "we have nothing that we have commissioned that's sitting on Minister Lebel's desk like the feasibility report that came out yesterday."

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Meanwhile, there is no denying the federally owned structure has been deteriorating for decades, creating massive gridlock with each repair.

In 2008, just three weeks before a by-election in a suburban riding that would directly benefit from the new link, the Conservative government promised to built a new bridge to the south shore. Lawrence Cannon, who was then transport minister, said at the time that a new bridge was already on order.

To this to this day, the Liberals said, the people of Montreal still do not have any information about the commencement of the construction of a new structure.

Mr. Coderre said it will take at least 10 years to build a new bridge given the preliminary work, including environmental assessments, that must be completed.

For that reason, Jamie Nicholls, the deputy transport critic for the New Democrats, said his party is not asking for additional reports. The priority, Mr. Nicholls said, should be getting a new bridge.

"I think that it's the time for action right now," he said. "The government has to act as soon as possible to get the construction started so that we don't have to use this bridge and jeopardize the safety and lives of the 60 million that cross it every year."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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