Ottawa sinkhole reveals crumbling roads

Ontario's road infrastructure needs serious repairs, according to one engineer, especially in Ottawa where a highway collapsed this week swallowing a moving vehicle.

Ottawa's culverts and steel pipes worrisome but problem is Ontario-wide, says engineer

The City of Ottawa has set up detours for commuters travelling eastbound. (Map courtesy City of Ottawa)

A professional engineer reviewing the problem of corroding culvert pipes in Ontario says it is only a matter of time before someone dies because of a highway collapse.

The eastbound lanes of Highway 174 remain closed between the Blair Road and Jeanne d'Arc exits.

Alternate routes for commuters travelling eastbound are:

  • 174 to Montreal to St. Joseph.
  • 174 to Blair to Innes.
  • Ogilvie to Montreal to St. Joseph.
  • Rockcliffe Parkway to St. Joseph.
  • Blackburn Hamlet By-pass to Innes or Navan.
  • Walkley to Ramsayville to Ridge to Anderson to Renaud.
  • Russell to Milton to Navan to Tenth Line.

Gerry Mulhern, the executive director of the Ontario Concrete Pipe Association, said Ontario's infrastructure needs serious repairs, which he has been saying for years.

The situation in Ottawa is especially worrisome, he added. While speaking to CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Friday, Mulhern called on the city to release its inspection reports of the culvert that corroded and caused the sinkhole on Highway 174 Tuesday.

"This particular culvert, because of its size, would be classified as a bridge. And under Ontario law, that bridge would have to be inspected every two years," he said.

"So the City of Ottawa has inspection reports. Release the inspection reports so we can all learn from what happened here and hopefully not have something like this happen again."

The City of Ottawa has ordered a 3.6-metre-wide concrete pipe to replace the one that collapsed Tuesday. The city originally planned to re-line the steel pipe that runs under the highway.

"If the pipe had not collapsed that would still be our plan," said infrastructure manager Alain Gonthier. "We will still be re-lining the westbound lanes as originally planned. But under the eastbound lanes it will be a concrete pipe."

Concrete should replace steel, says engineer

As a representative of an association that builds concrete pipes, Mulhern has a vested interest in seeing the old steel pipes replaced with concrete.

But he has reviewed hundreds of inspection reports for corroding steel pipes, he said, and many should have been replaced years ago.

This sinkhole swallowed Juan Pedro Unger's four-door sedan as he drove home during rush hour Tuesday in east Ottawa. (Photo courtesy of Ottawa Fire Services)

He also admitted, though, he does not want to say, "I told you so."

"I said two years ago it's just a matter of time until somebody gets killed. I'm saying the same to you today. We've been lucky," Mulhern said.

Mulhern said the Ministry of Transportation needs to take a leadership role and acknowledge the infrastructure problems across the province.

Road to be closed for more than a week

Repairs will take time to complete, Gonthier stressed Thursday, and city staff is working "around the clock" to fix it.

Unger feared his vehicle would sink further underground as he sat in his driver's seat in the sinkhole. (CBC)

The city has secured 18 sections of the new pipe and there are another two arriving Friday from Quebec. The rest of the pipe needed to replace the 50-year-old storm drain pipe is expected next week.

The pipe collapsed Tuesday, leading to the sinkhole that swallowed the car of motorist Juan Pedro Unger as he drove home. Unger crawled out of the hole and escaped, but the car remains underground.

Traffic on Highway 174 is not likely to be flowing again until the week after next.