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The new Champlain Bridge slated to open later this year now won’t welcome traffic until sometime in 2019, the federal government confirmed Thursday.

Infrastructure Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said during a visit to the site that key work won’t be completed before the winter months take over, forcing a delay to the planned Dec. 21 opening.

The $4.2-billion bridge will now open sometime in 2019 – by next June at the latest – Champagne said.

“To ensure the durability of the new bridge, certain finishing works ... need to be done next spring,” he said.

Champagne said while the main structure of the bridge will be completed by December, other work including waterproofing and paving of the span will have to wait until weather conditions are more favourable.

Putting down a membrane and two layers of asphalt will take about two months and requires temperatures of at least 2 degrees Celsius.

A firm opening date will be announced early next year, but in the meantime the old bridge located next to the new structure will remain open to traffic.

Champagne said the government had undertaken measures in 2017 to ensure the old structure would remain “open, functional and safe.”

Another $10-million has been added to the previous $50-million earmarked for keeping the aging bridge in service until the new span opens.

Champagne said there will be a cost to the consortium building the new bridge because of the delivery delay.

The contract provides penalties of $100,000 per day the bridge is late for the first seven days and $400,000 per day late after the first week, to a maximum of $150-million.

“When there’s delays, there are consequences and both sides will be looking at the contractual terms and conditions, there will be discussion and there will be legal and financial consequences,” Champagne said. “However, I must say the focus of everyone is to deliver the new Champlain Bridge.”

Some 1,600 workers have worked around the clock, seven days a week on the Champlain Bridge project.

Champagne said the project has been hit by certain “excusable delays” and any penalties will be the subject of confidential discussions among lawyers.

Daniel Genest, who heads Signature on the Saint Lawrence Group – the consortium building the bridge – said a crane was struck by lightning, immobilizing it for three days. Crane operators were also on strike in June and there were some weather-related delays.

Genest believed a Dec. 21 delivery was possible until September, because of those delays.

“I did ask for other expert opinions which confirmed the work could not be done,” Champagne said. “In my role managing public money, we had to come to the conclusion that this work could not be done without impacting the durability.”

The new bridge is expected to last 125 years.

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