In what is becoming a semi-regular occurrence in Montreal, federal officials held a news conference Friday to announce more money to repair some of the city's busiest and oldest bridges.
Of the $61 million in new funding announced Friday, $50 million will go towards the second phase of a major overhaul of the Honoré Mercier Bridge, a structure that links Montreal with the south shore of the St. Lawrence River and the Mohawk reserve of Kahnawake.
"This is the [largest] revamping project in the history of Canada, the Mercier Bridge," said Public Works Minister Christian Paradis.
'There were increases with some unexpected costs.' —Christian Paradis, Public Works minister
The new money is on top of $85 million the federal government has already spent on the project, which includes the complete resurfacing of the bridge.
"There were increases with some unexpected costs," said Paradis.
The Mohawk Bridge Consortium — which includes five Mohawk companies — is a partner with the provincial and federal governments on the Mercier Bridge project. The bridge carries an estimated 28 million vehicles per year.
Canada's busiest bridge gets more money, too
The remainder of the new money announced Friday, $11 million, will be spent on the Champlain Bridge which connects the Island of Montreal, Nun's Island and the south shore of the St. Lawrence River.
It is the busiest bridge in Canada with an estimated 58 million trips a year.
New roads and ramps will be built to improve access between Montreal and Nun's Island, an area where traffic has increased substantially due to the construction of Bell Canada's new headquarters.
Last summer, prior to the last federal election, then transport minister Lawrence Cannon said his government was serious about replacing the bridge altogether.
But federal officials said Friday that any plans to rebuild the bridge, which is the busiest in Canada, will have to wait.
"It's very early right now, we're sitting down with our partners, the Quebec Ministry of Transportation," said Glen Carlin, general manager of the federal agency responsible for the bridges.
In 2006, a report by the engineering firm Genivar recommended a new bridge be built to replace Champlain as soon as possible, with construction ideally starting in 2007.
But Carlin said the Champlain Bridge is safe. As for the Mercier Bridge, he said the massive repair project is the best option.
"It is essentially normal to be doing this type of investment at this time in the bridge's life. In 2009, the Mercier Bridge will be 75 years of age. So we will be able to double the life span with the investment," he said.
Bridge work part of economic plan: Harper
In Montreal on Friday to meet with business leaders, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the two bridge projects are part of his plan to help Quebec weather the economic downturn.
"These are obviously important parts of our action plan for the economy that we will be building on when we announce the Jan. 27 budget," said Harper.
The Mercier project alone was originally expected to create 1,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Some drivers have worried about the impact the construction will have on traffic flow on the already congested roadways but Carlin said most of the work will happen overnight.
He expects the Mercier Bridge improvements to be finished in 2010 with the Champlain wrapping by the end of this year.