PSPC to determine future of LaSalle Causeway in coming weeks

The LaSalle Causeway, its counter-weight supported to keep stress off the over 100-year-old structure, on Friday, May 3, 2024. In the coming weeks, analytics will determine whether the bridge can be fixed, according to MP Mark Gerretsen. Photo by Daniel Tastard-Homer/Kingstonist.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated since it was originally published on Friday, May 3, 2024, at 4:23 a.m. Please see bottom of the article for most recently updated information.

Is repairing the LaSalle Causeway ‘a bridge too far’?

The next few weeks will be critical in determining how the LaSalle Causeway can be fixed — if at all.

According to Kingston and the Islands Member of Parliament (MP) Mark Gerretsen, this was the information learned at a briefing to stakeholders by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) on Thursday, May 2, 2024. That briefing came almost five weeks after an “incident” during planned maintenance to the bascule lift bridge led to its immediate and indefinite closure.

Asked what he has been doing to see the bridge re-opened expeditiously, Gerretsen said his office has been “in constant communication” with PSPC, the federal agency that oversees the maintenance and operations of the LaSalle Causeway, which officially opened in 1917. Those ongoing communications led to the briefing that his office, along with a handful of other stakeholders, including the operators of St. Lawrence Cruise Lines and Kingston 1000 Islands Cruises, participated in on May 2.

Speaking with Kingstonist by phone on Friday, May 3, 2024, MP Gerretsen — who expressed his own frustrations with commuting across Kingston as an east end resident — explained a bit further what that “incident” consisted of.

“There was a structural failure in terms of, from an engineering perspective, not something that that anybody was expecting to occur — which is that a section of one of the supporting sections… basically started to bend while they were working on it,” Gerretsen relayed.

“This was not an accident, like somebody banged into it or something dropped on it. This literally was as a result of the fact that the bridge weighs 600 tons, and the counterweight weighs 600 tons. And… it’s over 100 years old. And as you can imagine, things can happen that you’re not expecting. This is what led us to the position that we’re in now.”

Underscoring that PSPC and Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of PSPC, have been cooperative and attentive though the month since the bridge was closed, Gerretsen explained that once the necessary components had been brought in to ensure the bridge is stable and will not collapse, crews began carrying out the work to “assess what the issue is.”

“That is not easy to do. It takes a lot of work to determine… from an engineering perspective… what happened [and] why did it happen, so that it doesn’t continue to happen,” Gerretsen said, “and what work needs to be done to secure and stabilize it.”

“And, quite frankly, is that work worth it? Is the bridge even saveable?”

Yes, the MP reiterated, that is a question: whether the LaSalle Causeway can even be saved. And it’s what will happen next that will determine the answer, he explained.

PSPC is bringing in high-tech over the next week or two, Gerretsen said, which will use lasers to “determine the extent of the damage from a structural perspective, so that they can determine whether or not it’s repairable.”

“If it is repairable, then they will attempt to repair the damaged structure,” he said.

“If it is not repairable, then we have a much bigger problem.”

Should the causeway be deemed repairable, the work to do so will begin immediately and take “eight to 10 weeks,” Gerretsen said. If the bridge is determined to be unsalvageable — or financially exorbitant to fix — well…

“Then they need to start the commissioning process of building a new bridge,” he said, “which is not a short time… then we’re talking about a long time, over a year, kind of thing.”

Gerretsen said that what that process (and the possible new bridge) would look like isn’t on the table right now. He emphasized that PSPC is cognizant of the multiple people and entities that depend on the LaSalle Causeway being operational, and “they want to get it reopened as quickly as possible.”

“If it is repairable, then they definitely want to do that, because they want to get people using the bridge; they want to open up to traffic and pedestrians again,” he said.

In terms of the aforementioned boat lines that currently have vessels trapped in Kingston’s Inner Harbour and the impact the situation has and will have on their operations — along with those of MetalCraft Marine and all marine traffic off the Rideau Canal — Gerretsen said he understands the weight of the issues at hand. While he noted that he would not provide legal advice, the MP did say he would support those businesses that may seek restitution due to the financial implications the bridge closure has on their operations. And, he noted, he is glad to see that PSPC is communicating with those stakeholders directly.

Gerretsen further noted that if it should turn out that the bridge cannot be saved, PSPC is fully aware that something will have to be done to open up the waterway to marine traffic. And in terms of pedestrians and cyclists, one of the very boat lines impacted by the situation is in discussions about offering some sort of ferry service across the expanse, he said.

“So we’re looking at different ways. [The businesses are] very cooperative and, you know, very good to work with. And I’m glad that they are taking an approach that is a collaborative approach of ‘How do we solve this together?’” said Gerretsen.

For his part, Mayor Bryan Paterson confirmed that the City of Kingston was a stakeholder at the table for the briefing from PSPC on May 2, but he would not comment on that discussion pending the federal agency releasing that information publicly. He did, however, speak to the impacts of the LaSalle Causeway closure and, like Gerretsen, expressed a sense of relief over two things: that the “incident” didn’t result in an even more terrible situation involving a complete collapse of the bridge, injuries, and/or fatalities; and that the Waaban Crossing, which spans the Cataraqui River about four kilometres north of the LaSalle Causeway, opened before this situation occurred.

“This is a huge issue for our community. It is impacting thousands of people. There are something in the neighbourhood of 20,000 to 30,000 vehicles that cross the LaSalle Causeway every day. And so to disrupt that major traffic link is causing huge delays and issues on both sides of the Cataraqui River and creating a lot of additional delays and concerns on that front — that alone has a huge impact,” Paterson said.

“And then of course, if you add in [the lack of] marine traffic and particularly some of the cruise lines and others that are impacted by this closure, this is a real concern, particularly as we’re just moving into our peak tourism season. And thinking of the chain reaction of events — if it affects cruises, it’s also going to affect other elements of downtown business, and hotels, and restaurants. So I think that the impacts will be significant.”

Paterson said his role in all of this is to continue to communicate to the federal government the urgency of the situation, “to push for a resolution as quickly as possible,” and to underscore the importance of communication.

“There really needs to be direct communication from the federal government to our citizens explaining the situation and what’s being done about it,” he said.

PSPC is expected to release an update on the LaSalle Causeway condition and closure by the end of the day on Monday, May 6, 2024. Kingstonist will provide continued coverage as more information becomes available.


UPDATE (Friday, May. 3, 2024, 4:55 p.m.):
Following the publication of this article, PSPC provided the following public update, delivered through the City of Kingston:

Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) would like to provide an update on the LaSalle Causeway closure, following the public notices issued on April 2, April 4, April 12 and April 22.

The first phase of work, which involves strengthening various elements of the bridge and completing essential contractual work to prepare for the repairs, is currently underway. Once this work is completed, the second phase will begin. It will focus on repairing the damage to the diagonal steel element and further strengthening the structure. Successful repair work will enable the resumption of pedestrian, cyclist, vehicle and marine traffic. PSPC currently estimates that these repairs will take 8 to 10 weeks. This timeline is subject to change should unforeseen issues be uncovered during the repair work.

As the repair work progresses, PSPC is exploring other options to enable the resumption of pedestrian, cyclist, vehicle and marine traffic.

The health and safety of the travelling public on the LaSalle Causeway is of paramount importance to the department. PSPC is committed to providing more information as it becomes available and encourages users to consult its public notices and social media channels for updates.

4 thoughts on “PSPC to determine future of LaSalle Causeway in coming weeks

  • Ok – this is confusing. This morning’s post at 4:23am, Gerretsen said that PSPC is bringing in equipment over the next week or two to determine if the bridge can be repaired or not. This afternoon PSPC is saying that the first phase is under way to prepare for repairs to the bridge to be completed in 8-10 weeks barring any other surprises? Did PSPC get confused and release their initial statement about how long the work was going to take prior to this incident occurring?

  • I share Willian’s confusion. Hoping for straight answers on Monday.

    • Hi all,

      The seeming discrepancy here reflects the information which PSPC issued to the public, and the information which PSPC relayed to those parties privy to a briefing that occurred on Thursday, May 2, 2024, as per statements from MP Mark Gerretsen.
      We have requested clarification from PSPC, and will provide updated coverage as more information becomes available.

      Tori Stafford
      Editor-in-Chief
      Kingstonist

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