As work continues on LaSalle Causeway, what’s next?

The LaSalle Causeway bascule bridge as work takes place on Monday, May 6, 2024. Photo by Aerosnapper Kingston.

Crossing that bridge if and when it’s repaired…

The prolonged closure of the LaSalle Causeway has clouded the waters for those who just want to know what the plan is and when traffic — vehicular, marine, or otherwise — will start flowing again across and on the Cataraqui River.

Here, Kingstonist will attempt to clarify the situation, and provide more updated information gathered this week (week ending Sunday, May 12, 2024).

Bridging the gap between messages…

Last Friday, May 3, 2024, Kingstonist relayed information from Mark Gerretsen, Member of Parliament (MP) for Kingston and the Islands, regarding a briefing delivered by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to relevant stakeholders concerned with the current closure of the LaSalle Causeway. PSPC is the federal agency that oversees the operations and maintenance of the more than 100-year-old causeway, which connects downtown Kingston and the city’s east end. In an interview with Kingstonist, MP Gerretsen said PSPC had explained the next steps in resolving the issues with the LaSalle Causeway at the briefing, which involved federal, provincial, and municipal representatives, as well as those companies impacted by the situation, such as St. Lawrence Cruise Lines and Kingston 1000 Islands Cruises.

At the time, Gerretsen said PSPC would be bringing in experts and high-tech equipment to assess the situation and determine if the bridge can be fixed. If it can be fixed, Gerretsen said, that work will take eight to 10 weeks; if it is determined that fixing the bridge is impossible or financially unfeasible, then PSPC will have to look at other possible solutions, one of which could be an entirely new bridge.

Within hours of publishing the article based on the interview with Gerretsen, PSPC issued an official public update. That update (which Kingstonist published at the bottom of the article containing Gerretsen’s insights) suggested that PSPC has already determined that the bridge can be fixed and that the work to do so should be complete in eight to 10 weeks. It also, however, noted that the timeline is “subject to change should unforeseen issues be uncovered during the repair work.”

Understandably, readers were confused by this seeming discrepancy between the accounts of the two officials (Gerretsen and PSPC). Kingstonist has now determined that PSPC is planning to repair the bridge, as described in its update on May 3, but that it also has contingency plans in place in case that is not doable or feasible. It is those contingency plans Gerretsen was referring to, plans that were outlined at the May 2 PSPC briefing of stakeholders, according to others at that meeting.

On Monday, May 6, 2024, Kingstonist brought the issue of differing accounts of next steps and plans to PSPC’s attention and asked for clarification. Despite follow-up communications with PSPC, response from the agency was not received until Thursday, May 9, 2024. It is important to note that Kingstonist also asked specifically about what PSPC plans to do about the multiple vessels currently trapped in Kingston’s Inner Harbour as a result of the situation (there is an illustrative 360-degree drone view of the vessels currently locked in Kingston’s Inner Harbour and at the Kingston Marina available through Aerosnapper Kingston). In the interest of complete transparency, the following six paragraphs comprise the response received from PSPC, verbatim:

“Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) is exploring options to enable the resumption of pedestrian, cyclist, vehicle, and marine traffic. The first option involves working on the repairs for the Bascule Bridge through a phased approach outlined in the public notice issued on April 22. As stated in a recent public notice issued on May 3, this option is estimated to take approximately 8-10 weeks, subject to unforeseen issues that may be uncovered during the repair work. 

PSPC is also exploring two other options, which include the removal of a span on the East Bridge of the LaSalle Causeway or the removal of the bascule bridge. These two options would only be considered if the bascule bridge is deemed irreparable. Both options would provide unrestricted access for marine traffic, but vehicular traffic, cyclists and pedestrians could only be accommodated outside of the marine season through a temporary modular bridge. Both options could be implemented no sooner than within 12-14 weeks. The modular temporary bridge required for both options would undergo assembly and installation after the annual closure for marine traffic, in November, and would require an additional 4-6 weeks.

The East Bridge currently hosts a utility corridor that includes communication infrastructure by Utilities Kingston and Bell Canada. These utilities have no or limited redundancies and would need to be relocated before proceeding with any work. The communication line cannot be temporarily disconnected and reconnected – it must be relocated. Therefore, PSPC estimates the removal of the span on the East Bridge would require a minimum of 12-14 weeks for the opening of a navigation channel. 

Based on current estimates, the repair work that is being completed on the Bascule bridge allows for the fastest resumption of pedestrian, cyclist, vehicle, and marine traffic. Removal of the East span does not allow for marine passage to resume faster than the ongoing repair works, and would only allow for resumption of marine traffic until a modular temporary bridge can be installed after the annual closure for marine traffic in November.

PSPC is not able to comment on potential financial liabilities relating to this situation.

Public Services and Procurement Canada is committed to providing more information as it becomes available and encourages users to consult its public notices and social media channels for updates.” (end of PSPC’s May 9 update)

Crews work on the LaSalle Causeway on Monday, May 6, 2024, with the goal of repairing the bridge in eight to 10 weeks. Photo via Aerosnapper Kingston.

A bridge over navigable (but troubled) water…

For those who operate tour boats in the area, the timelines for possible opening to marine traffic are “unacceptable” and “unconscionable,” declared Eric Ferguson, General Manager of the Kingston Destination Group, which operates Kingston 1000 Islands Cruises and the Kingston Trolley Tours, among other things — especially at this point, some six weeks after the “incident” that closed the LaSalle Causeway in the first place.

In fact, Ferguson said, the situation should have seen more urgency in the first place. And that comes down to what the bridge crosses: navigable water.

“First of all, it is important to note that this is a navigable waterway. It is a federal bridge over a navigable waterway. So the federal government has a responsibility to reopen it to navigation,” he said.

“There’s all this discussion about all the different users in this space and pedestrians and so on, [but] the principle in law is quite simply: the river was there first, the King built a bridge across the river, the King’s bridge is broken… the river takes precedence in its navigation.”

In fact, it is the federal government’s own legislation that dictates this through the Canadian Navigable Water Act and the Navigation Protection Program.

Further, Ferguson pointed out, had PSPC begun work to open up the east fixed-bridge portion of the LaSalle Causeway — as described in the “white paper” local boat lines presented to the federal agency back in mid-April — the waterway would be navigable already, and it would not impede traffic crossing the LaSalle Causeway anyway, because the bridge is entirely closed off to traffic.

“If you or I were to block a river with a barge — let’s say right now — the federal government would come in there with plasma torches to cut the barge out and send you the bill later,” Ferguson said, describing the seeming double standard at play.

Meanwhile, the same day Ferguson expressed these sentiments, Tourism Kingston issued a statement of their own, outlining the overall impact of the current bridge closure on the tourism sector locally, and local business in general.

Tourism Kingston’s statement said that the unexpected closure of the LaSalle Causeway “has already had, and will continue to have, a significant impact on Kingston’s tourism sector — a sector hard-hit by COVID-19 and still recovering from the economic losses caused by the pandemic,” noting that the uncertainty of the timeline for reopening the bridge has “threatened” the city’s peak tourism season, “which generates millions of dollars and employs thousands of residents.”

“There is never a good time to close a major artery like the LaSalle Causeway, which connects Kingston’s tourism-dependent downtown with the east and key attraction, Fort Henry. That this closure occurred at the start of peak tourism season and has literally trapped two key visitor attractions is catastrophic,” Megan Knott, CEO of Tourism Kingston, said in a press release on Friday, May 10, 2024.

The press release went on to outline the impacts to the local cruise lines, as well as the impact on “travel trade tourism” in Kingston, which “generated a $3 million+ economic impact in 2023.” The release also stated, as did Ferguson, that the only drydock on Lake Ontario is currently not accessible and that a variety of sports events planned for Kingston this summer that require access to the city’s east end will be impacted, too — not to mention all of the traffic that comes through Kingston by way of the Rideau Canal (a UNESCO World Heritage site, no less), which is currently closed off from accessing other waterways and usually sees thousands of boat’s worth of traffic annually.

But Ferguson pointed to something that has perhaps been overlooked by the masses when considering the situation: the emotional and moral component.

“We’re a family-owned business. It’s not a group of investors from an American hedge fund. It’s Kingston-owned, the Kingston 1000 Islands Boat Lines Ltd. is a family-owned business,” he said of his company.

“And we hold a place in our heart for the events that people plan on these boats, too…” Ferguson’s voice trailed off a bit as he considered those people and plans in the immediate future.

“We have Grade 8 graduations, we have a wedding… The place that these boats have in our community is not about profit, it’s about milestones in people’s lives,” he said candidly.

“And PSPC has a responsibility from a legal point of view, from a fiduciary point of view, but I think also from a moral point of view, too: get these vessels operating again, so that they can serve their purpose in our community.”

At 3:30 p.m., PSPC issued what seems to be a weekly update on the LaSalle Causeway. Today’s update indicated positive progression on the repairs of the bridge and stated that the agency is “exploring” other options for resumption of marine traffic, including the very concept Ferguson and Jason Clark of St. Lawrence Cruise Lines tabled back in early April.

“Work on the Bascule Bridge is underway and progress has been made on repairs to certain elements of the bridge. The repair work is on track and is estimated to be completed in approximately 7 to 9 weeks, based on current information. Successful completion of these repairs will enable the resumption of pedestrian, cyclist, vehicle and marine traffic. In addition, we have started a confirmatory laser survey to validate the positions of all parts of the bridge structure,” PSPC said in the Public Notice, noting that “plans are also progressing to enable safe pedestrian access while the repair work is ongoing.”

“At the same time, PSPC is also exploring two other options to enable marine navigation. These include the removal of a span on the East Bridge of the LaSalle Causeway or the removal of the Bascule Bridge, should unforeseen circumstances significantly hinder or delay the ongoing repair work,” the organization continued.

“Based on our current estimates, repairing the Bascule Bridge through a phased approach offers the fastest resumption of traffic for pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles, and marine traffic… The health and safety of the travelling public on the LaSalle Causeway is of paramount importance to the department.”

Updates from PSPC can be read as they are issued on the Public Services and Procurement Canada section of the Government of Canada website.

2 thoughts on “As work continues on LaSalle Causeway, what’s next?

  • This is a tough situation. PSPC would have needed time to figure out what its options were, nobody would just cut up a bridge or dig up a road without first understanding what it would affect. All of which would have take time. Where Kingston Destination Group just wants their boats back, so they can run their business.
    I see two options:
    1) PSPC support KDG while they are blocking their boats from operating. This cost should be factored into the cost of the repair vs replace analysis. As it not just the cost of repair but the opportunity cost to the local economy.

    2) Replace the old bridge so we don’t get in this situation again. You could probably have the old bridge out in a week. It is only money.

  • Can the boats go to ottawa,the Empress can, and get out. If so why havent the done so?

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