New Champlain Bridge will be finished on time, minister promises

Federal Minister of Infrastructure Amarjeet Sohi, Quebec Municipal Affairs Minister Martin Coiteux and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre were on hand as crews provided an update on construction of the new span linking Montreal to the South Shore Friday afternoon.

New span expected to be completed by late 2018

The first pieces of the new Champlain Bridge will be visible from both land and water starting this summer. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

A year after work began on the new Champlain Bridge, it's nearly time for its foundation to be installed.

Federal Minister of Infrastructure Amarjeet Sohi, Quebec Municipal Affairs Minister Martin Coiteux and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre were on hand Friday as crews provided an update on construction of the new $4.25-billion span linking Montreal to the South Shore.

Since last fall, a marine excavation barge equipped with a power shovel has been digging into the St. Lawrence riverbed in order to prepare for the installation of the bridge's footings.

In mid-December, crews started building the 38 footings that will be installed underwater. Each one comes with a base and when assembled, the footing and base tandem will stand 14 metres high and weigh 900 tonnes.

A cement footing gets set to be placed in the river at the site of the new Champlain Bridge Friday, July 8, 2016 in Montreal. Mayor Denis Coderre said on the first anniversary of the start of construction that the project is on time and on budget. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

The footings will be moved to a loading dock by "Thor the ant," a machine specially made to transport the many massive pieces needed to build the bridge. 

To actually install the pieces, the footings will be moved and tied down to a vessel called the floating foundation installer.

A GPS system directs the vessel to the right place, then the footing is lowered using a hydraulic cable, pulley system and hydraulic jacks. Workers will make sure it's positioned just right before concrete is poured to solidify it.

To date, 16 of the footings have been premade and 20 locations have been excavated.

Scrapping toll idea leads to millions in savings

The floating foundation installer is a blue vessel that transports the footings to where they will be placed on the St. Lawrence riverbed. (CBC)

The bridge is scheduled to be completed Dec. 1, 2018. It is expected to last 125 years and will take up to 45,000 tonnes of steel to complete, according to Marc Dutil, the president of CANAM, one of the groups working on the project.

The project is funded by a public-private partnership between Infrastructure Canada and a consortium chosen by Ottawa.

Sohi said Friday the project is on schedule and on budget. He also confirmed that the finished bridge will not have tolls.

When the previous Conservative government announced plans to build the new bridge, they said it would be partially paid for by tolls. The Liberals reversed that decision after taking power last year.    

An internal federal government memo, obtained by The Canadian Press, estimated the decision to ditch plans to install the tolls will knock about $301 million off the final construction price.

The current bridge was built in 1962 but has been deteriorating in recent years.

In 2011, when it was announced that the bridge would be replaced, an estimated 140,000 cars were using it each day.

The new Champlain Bridge is expected to be completed by 2018. (Infrastructure Canada)

with files from The Canadian Press