Ville-Marie could reopen soon

Quebec transport officials are hoping a Montreal tunnel that has been closed since a massive chunk of concrete smashed onto a highway will reopen by Monday.

Minister blames contractor for Ville-Marie tunnel collapse

Transport Quebec engineers say workers chipping concrete in the tunnel got too close to the ceiling support beam. (CBC)

Quebec transport officials are hoping a Montreal tunnel that has been closed since a massive chunk of concrete smashed onto a highway  will reopen by Monday.

That's when Quebec's annual two-week construction holiday ends, and traffic in Montreal will swell to its normal volume.

Transport Minister Sam Hamad blames the collapse of a 25-tonne slab of concrete in the Ville-Marie Expressway tunnel on a private contractor hired to do maintenance work.

Engineers with the government agency said workers chipping at concrete on one of the tunnel walls got too close to a support beam.

Hamad refutes claims that the collapse is the province's fault, but acknowledged that some transport ministry procedures should be reviewed in the future.

"We cannot say that everything is okay. We have to ask many questions, and say, 'What has happened? Can we do better than we do now? Can we improve our methods?'"

The slab crashed down on the Ville-Marie Sunday morning, when no cars were on the road. Maintenance workers at the site alerted authorities.

2008 engineering report  warned the tunnel was in a "critical" state and had become dangerous to users.

The tunnel repairs were being done by Laco Construction, a company that has been investigated nine times for past workplace errors.

A Laco employee was killed on the job a few years ago, and in 2009 the company was convicted of fraud after being found to be falsifying tax receipts.

Hamad said much of Quebec's highway infrastructure inspections are contracted out to the private sector because the province is having trouble recruiting enough in-house engineers.

Hamad says Transport Quebec would do more of the work itself, if it was able to hire more engineers.