Safety of expressway on minds of returning holidayers

Monday was the first day back to work for many Montrealers after the annual two-week construction holiday, but it was the safety of the Ville-Marie Expressway that was on many of their minds.

Monday was the first day back to work for many people living on the Island of Montreal as Sunday was the last day of the annual two-week construction holiday.

While 21 people were killed in road accidents during that period — seven more than in the same period last year — it was the safety of the tunnels on the Ville-Marie Expressway that was still on many Monday morning commuters' minds.

That's because a massive beam fell on the expressway a week ago Sunday. The subsequent political squabbling over the safety of Quebec's infrastructure hasn't made drivers feel any more secure.

Pulling up to the lights after exiting the expressway at Papineau Avenue, many drivers breathe a sigh of relief.

"For me, I don't have a choice. I have to take this route. I was concerned, yes, yep. I'm just kind of looking up, seeing what I'm going to do if something falls down in front of me," one driver said Monday morning.

Transport Minister Sam Hamad said Friday the expressway wouldn't reopen unless the tunnels were completely safe.  He said he had 17 support pillars installed as an added precaution.

But the federal NDP transportation critic, Jamie Nicholls, said more needs to be done at a federal level.

"We'd like to see a renewal of infrastructure funding that will take care of the next generation's needs.

"Many cuts were made in the 1990s, and those cutbacks are responsible for the problems we're having today," Nicholls said.

McGill engineering professor Saeed Mirza agrees.

"We are in a royal mess right now, and the only way we can get out of it is to meet with all levels of government and stake holders, and come up with a national infrastructure plan," Mirza said Monday.

Mirza is also calling for Montreal to take immediate action to raise funds for deteriorating infrastructure.

He wants to see tolls on bridges that feed into the city.

Meanwhile Transport Quebec spokesperson Real Gregoire has some advice for drivers.

He said some parts of Highway 40 should be avoided.

Gregoire said there could be some congestion between the Laurentian Autoroute overpass and the Canora Street exit.

That's because the ramp from Highway 40 eastbound to Highway 15 northbound is being rebuilt.

"We have two lanes in both directions, but it's very, very [heavily used] this segment. So if you can avoid this sector, it will be better," he said.   Gregoire said construction in that area should be finished by Aug. 22.