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Canada Montreal’s aging Champlain bridge to be reinforced with ‘super’ beam

The Champlain Bridge spans the Saint Lawrence river in Montreal, Friday, March 18, 2011. The bridge is in need of major repair and has become a safety concern to motorists.

Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The continuing deterioration of a supporting beam in one of Canada's busiest bridges has prompted major unexpected repairs.

Montreal's Champlain Bridge may even be closed to traffic if there are any doubts about its safety and security.

Glen Carlin, the general manager of the corporation which oversees Montreal's federally run bridges, said the cracked beam is being inspected twice daily.

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He insisted the corporation will take whatever measures are needed to ensure the safety of the structure.

"If we have to close three lanes, we will close three lanes," he said. "If we have to close the bridge, we will close the bridge."

In the short term, a steel "super" beam will be used to support a girder in the middle of the bridge after a two-millimetre crack widened.

The crack was discovered last week and other fissures have also been found in the beam since then.

The cracked girder is one of seven under the span which support the six lanes of the bridge. A federal official says the other six girders are still in good condition.

Mr. Carlin admitted to reporters Friday that the beam deteriorated faster than expected.

"We did not anticipate that this beam would continue to present structural cracks," he said.

"Last Friday, our repair method was completely different. We said, 'Okay, it's under control and we have a minor crack which doesn't seem to be developing'.

"We did not expect to see the beam have signs of distress show up so quickly."

Mr. Carlin said the 75-tonne super beam, which was delivered in 2009, will be installed by mid-December. The three-metre-high beam, which cost $350,000, will be placed on top of the deteriorating girder.

Next spring, it is to be replaced with a modular truss which will be installed underneath the problem beam.

Mr. Carlin has previously estimated that 350 beams on the bridge are in different states of deterioration.

In the meantime, truck traffic will be restricted and speed will be reduced for all vehicles that use the bridge.

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The Champlain Bridge was built in 1962 and plans are underway to replace it with a new structure in 2021. But federal officials are now looking at speeding up construction of the new bridge which will cost between $3-billion and $5-billion.

Every year, more than 50 million vehicles use the bridge, which links Montreal with its south shore.

Transport Canada also says on its website that 6.2 million trucks make up 10 per cent of the bridge's traffic and 200,000 buses also use it.

The federal department says the bridge was not designed to handle today's high volume of traffic and the use of de-icing salt has contributed to corrosion and the degradation of concrete.

With a report from Peter Rakobowchuk.

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