Highway 40 West to remain closed for unknown period after fatal tanker fire
Results of tests on structure expected Thursday but could be another few days before reopening
Montreal's Highway 40 West will remain closed for an unknown period around St-Denis Street following yesterday's rush-hour explosion that left a truck driver dead and six other people with minor injuries.
At a Wednesday afternoon news conference, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said it's unlikely the highway will be open in time for the Thursday morning rush hour.
The results of tests on the concrete on the stretch of highway where the explosion occurred are expected within the next 12 hours, said Transport Minister Jacques Daoust.
The best case scenario, he said, would be that the highway reopens in the next two to three days, but nothing will be confirmed until the test results come in.
Quebec provincial police said the truck had been carrying 45,000 litres of diesel fuel when it collided with another truck.
The tanker truck's driver, Gilbert Prince, died in the ensuing explosion. He was 59.
Ministry of transport spokeswoman Sarah Bensadoun said there are no restrictions for trucks on the highway.
Four vehicles were involved in the crash. Crews worked through the night to clean up the highway after firefighters used foam to put out the burning overpass in the wake of the explosion.
Police say a vehicle was stopped on the highway before the crash. Investigators are trying to determine why the vehicle had been stopped and whether charges of criminal negligence are warranted.
Inspecting the highway
Collision reconstruction investigators for the Sûreté du Québec wrapped up their analysis of the scene Wednesday morning and turned it over to transport ministry inspectors, who are working to assess the structural damage to the elevated highway.
Daoust said the damage does not appear to be too bad but they won't know for sure until engineers test the core of the structure.
There was concern about the expansion joints, but they appear to be OK, he said.
Bensadoun said once the charred wreckage of the tanker is removed, inspectors can get a better sense of both the damage to the roadway underneath and how long the highway will have to remain closed.
"We will not compromise safety and security of road users, so we will take the necessary time to work, inspect and finalize everything here," Bensadoun said.
Highway 40 East reopened
Highway 40 East was reopened Wednesday morning, and traffic resumed on Crémazie Boulevard East in both directions.
Montreal police are asking drivers to avoid the area if possible and use an alternate route to travel west.
The city issued a detour map to help commuters.
An expert in civil engineering, Bruno Massicotte, who teaches at Polytechnique Montréal, said he estimates it will take the government at least a few days to properly inspect the site.
He said the overpass was built with a series of tubes running through it to lighten the structure. He thinks these tubes may have been damaged.
"Did the combustible material go into those tubes? Was there fire heating them up?" he said during an interview with CBC's French-language service Radio-Canada.
For updates, the city is advising commuters to check the Twitter feeds of the STM and Montréal circulation as well as Montreal's Facebook page.
Response time criticisms dismissed
Opposition party Projet Montreal criticized the city's emergency response time, saying it was inadequate and that the emergency response plan needs to be reviewed.
Coderre shot down those claims, saying officials began notifying the public about the accident shortly after it occurred.
Coderre, Daoust and Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux praised the coordinated effort of provincial and municipal officials following the crash.
In a statement to Radio-Canada, the Parti Québécois said it wants the government to undertake a comprehensive audit on the transportation of oil and hazardous materials, including the possibility of creating bypass routes for trucks transporting dangerous goods.
Daoust said while finding alternative routes for trucks carrying dangerous cargo is an issue to consider, the immediate priority is reopening the highway.
In a news release, Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader François Legault said while he understands people may be worried about the transportation of dangerous goods through Montreal, he will wait for the investigation into the crash to be finished before drawing conclusions.
Read more on the Highway 40 accident and aftermath here: