Montreal's Samuel De Champlain Bridge is now open

After four years of construction and months of delays, the new bridge connecting Montreal to its South Shore is ready — at least in one direction.

Structure open in 1 direction, scheduled to be fully ready for Canada Day

The first cars made it across the new Samuel De Champlain Bridge this morning at 5 a.m. (Radio-Canada)

After four years of construction and months of delays, motorists heading to Montreal from the city's South Shore are now able to drive over the new Samuel De Champlain Bridge for the first time.

The $4.47-billion, 3.4-kilometre bridge over the St. Lawrence River has been open since 5 a.m. in the northbound direction on Quebec's Fête nationale, a provincial holiday. Southbound lanes will open on Canada Day.

Federal Infrastructure Minister François-Philippe Champagne was among the first to cross the bridge. He said it was a project that brought Canada together, with workers coming in from coast to coast to build the bridge.

"With every centimetre I crossed, I was thinking about the more than 2,000 men and women who have delivered a signature infrastructure for Montrealers," he said. 

Citing famous crossings such as the Golden Gate and Brooklyn Bridge, the minister said this bridge will be a "landmark" for Montreal.

"I think it's really a historic moment about what we're able as Quebecers to do in terms of engineering, in terms of work and in terms of expertise."

The new structure, simple and sleek in design, replaces the former Champlain Bridge, a steel truss cantilever bridge alongside it that has been a fixture on the skyline since it opened in 1962.

In recent years, it had fallen into disrepair, costing taxpayers millions annually to maintain. The new bridge is expected to last 125 years.

Still, it was the busiest in Canada, crossed by more than 50 million vehicles and some $20-billion in international trade goods every year.

The new bridge, once fully operational with a light-rail train running down the middle, will bring more fluidity to that constant flow of traffic, the minister said.

The federally funded bridge is touted by Ottawa as one of the largest public infrastructure projects in North America. 

More than 50 motorists were out waiting before 5 a.m. for federal and provincial officials to open the new bridge to the public. (Vincent Resseguier/Radio-Canada)

There's still work to do, however, including the addition of that light-rail train and a path for pedestrians and cyclists.

Light-rail network to serve millions

The bridge will be a crucial South Shore link for the city's new light-rail system (REM). By 2021, some 11 million public transit users are expected to cross the bridge every year.

The REM will run across a central deck between the two traffic lanes, replacing the reserved bus lanes. With the deck already in place, adding the tracks will not disrupt traffic, an REM spokesperson confirmed Friday.

Watch as the first drivers cross the bridge Monday:

Samuel De Champlain Bridge

3 years ago
Duration 0:53
Drivers were out at 5 a.m. Monday crossing the Samuel De Champlain Bridge into Montreal. 0:53

The REM will have stops on either side of the bridge in Brossard and on Nun's Island.

Montreal will have 212 train cars in its REM network, departing in four-car segments during rush hour and two cars at off-peak hours to save energy.

Each automated train, with a maximum capacity of 780 passengers, will eventually offer connections to 26 stations spread out across the region, connected by 67 kilometres of track.

Pedestrian and cyclist path

The consortium behind the bridge project, Signature on the Saint Lawrence (SSL), is contractually obligated to open the new pedestrian and bicycle path within 120 days of the bridge's opening.

An SSL spokesperson said the plan is to open it around the end of September. The path will be on the northeast side of the bridge, with four lookouts offering views of the city's skyline.

Pedestrians and cyclists should be able to enjoy views of the Montreal's skyline from the new Samuel de Champlain Bridge this fall. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

A direct cyclist and pedestrian route between Montreal and Brossard was not available on the old Champlain Bridge. Now users will be able to access the bicycle path network in Montreal and on Nun's Island.

It will also be part of La Route Verte, which, at 5,300 kilometres, is the longest network of cycling trails in North America.

Lots and lots of lights

The new bridge will be strung with 7,500 individually controlled light-emitting diodes, commonly called LEDs. The lights are designed to highlight the bridge's architecture.

By comparison, the Jacques Cartier Bridge, which is almost the exact same length as the new bridge, has 2,807 LEDs.

The Jacques Cartier Bridge has 2,807 LEDs lighting its structure. The new Champlain Bridge will have 7,500 individually controlled LEDs. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Each luminaire can display "an almost infinite palette of colours," SSL says. The lighting control will be centralized and will display programmable themes of adjustable colours and intensity.

The basic theme will be a blank display, but themes associated with major events will be possible, SSL says.

Crews will be finishing the Champlain bridge's lighting and landscaping throughout the summer.

By the numbers

  • The bridge is about as long as the longest runway at Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport and about as tall as the Olympic Stadium — the Big O is just five metres taller.
  • The cable-stayed section of the bridge measures 500 metres, or more than three and a half Canadian football fields.
  • There are two elevators inside the main pylon, which can now be seen from several kilometres away with thick cables spanning out in either direction.
  • To construct the bridge, 42 concrete piles measuring 1.2 metres in diameter were driven 20 metres into the bedrock.
  • There are more than one million bolts holding the bridge together, 74 pillars and 74 foundations. Each foundation weighs 604 tonnes, or the equivalent of four blue whales.
  • In total, 2,000 workers dedicated more than 8.5 million hours to its construction.

Months of delays

The bridge was originally slated to open in December 2018. SSL, led by SNC-Lavalin, won the $4.2-billion contract knowing late fees would amount to $100,000 per day for the first seven days and $400,000 per day after that.

Thousands of workers have been on site for four years building the bridge. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

The maximum penalty was capped at $150 million.

SSL went over the original estimated cost by $235 million, meaning the actual price tag could come in at around $4.5 billion. The federal government is still in discussions with SSL about who is to blame for the delays and cost overruns. 


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