Quebec transport minister downplays tunnel concerns

Quebec's transport minister is dismissing concerns other portions of the Ville-Marie Tunnel are at risk of collapsing.

Sam Hamad says new support pillars are temporary while crews complete maintenance work

Transport Quebec engineers say workers chipping concrete in the tunnel got too close to the ceiling support beam. But the president of the company doing the work, Luc La Haye, said Thursday they were following engineers' plans. (CBC)

Quebec's transport minister is dismissing concerns other portions of the Ville-Marie Tunnel are at risk of collapsing.

Sam Hamad said the province is carrying out maintenance in accordance with recommendations made in a report which was written in 2008.

The report was made public earlier this week.

At a press conference the Transport Ministry held Thursday, Hamad confirmed that a dozen temporary support pillars have been put up in the tunnel since a massive concrete beam collapsed on Sunday.

But Hamad said the support pillars are only there because engineers working on the tunnel wanted additional safety measures as they carry out their work. The ministry said a total of 21 temporary pillars will be installed.

The minister said he plans to reopen the tunnel by Monday, if it is deemed safe.

"I am not going to open the Ville-Marie Tunnel without an opinion from an engineer saying it's 100 per cent safe," said Hamad.

Highly anticipated report

The beam which fell Sunday was a part of concrete grids made to protect drivers from sun glare. ((CBC))

On Thursday the ministry promised to release a recent report on the concrete grids which cover one end of the tunnel.

The beam which fell Sunday was a part of those grids, which are made to protect drivers from sun glare.

Although that report was given to the ministry in January, Hamad said it would be a few days before the ministry could release it to the public.

"We are going to explain exactly what this report means, what the conclusions [are] ... and to do that, the department needs to prepare to [present the report]," said Hamad.

Blame game

Hamad had previously blamed the collapse of a massive beam on Sunday on maintenance work being done in the tunnel.

But the president of the private firm working on the tunnel, Laco Construction, has taken issue with that assertion.

Laco's president, Luc La Haye, told French-language newspaper La Presse, that his company was following engineers' plans.

Workers were chipping away at a wall that was supporting the massive beam that crashed on Sunday.

La Haye said the plan called for them to remove about 30 centimetres of the wall. He said his employees erred on the side of caution and only chipped away about 20 centimetres. But the beam fell anyway.

Quebec Transport Minister Sam Hamad speaks Thursday. ((CBC))

La Haye also said he's furious about it because his workers could have easily been killed.

He said Hamad should wait until the final report is out before laying blame. He says his company's name has been dragged through the mud.

On Thursday Hamad argued that his blame was not specific.

"I never said any names in my description of the situation, I said that the collapse of the beam is really related to work in place," said Hamad.

"It means that it could be engineering, could be design, could be supervision of the job site, or it could be the the work done by the entrepreneur or the subcontractor. I cannot say what can be responsible, this is why we asked the independent experts to prepare a report for us and explain [to] us why this happened."

Political jabs

Premier Jean Charest said Thursday that Hamad has been as forthcoming as possible, releasing new information as it becomes available.

"Sam has done his job well, and has done his best to inform people of why this is happening," said Charest.

Hamad has been criticized over how he's handled the situation.

A Facebook group has popped up calling on the minister to resign, and the province's opposition party said the minister needs to stop shifting the blame.

"When the minister is saying it's not my fault, it's the entrepreneur who's responsible, I think Quebecers don't believe him, Montrealers don't believe him, I think his attitude is unacceptable," said Parti Québécois transport critic Nicolas Girard.

Girard is even more outraged at the premier.

"It's like he's living on another planet, it's like he's saying, like his minister, that the Charest government has nothing to do about what happened," said Girard.