Designer, contractor and a subcontractor all received blame for poor workmanship, insufficient oversight and poor maintenance as the causes leading to a fatal bridge collapse in Quebec. The Sept. 30, 2006, collapse of a 20-meter-long section of a concrete cantilevered prestressed box girder bridge overpass on Highway 19 in Laval crushed five motorists to death.

The report was submitted to the provincial government Oct. 18. Earlier this year the three-member panel listened to 58 witnesses who were either driving on overpass when it collapsed, saw what happened or were connected in some way with its design or construction. Several civil engineering university professors also gave their opinion on possible causes and more than 80 reports were filed with the commission.

In handing down the report commission chair (and former Quebec premier) Pierre-Marc Johnson said there was “negligence on the construction site and lapses in the managing of the structure throughout its entire life.”

Specifically blamed in the report is designer Desjardins, Sauriol & Associés (now Dessau-Soprin Inc.), contractor Inter State Paving, and steel sub contractor Acier d’armature de Montréal (1968) Lteé. The government agency Transports Québec is also criticized for inadequate inspection and maintenance.

But the panel also concluded the collapse cannot be attributed to any “single entity, organization or persons. None of the defects and shortcomings that were identified (during the commission’s hearings) could have by itself caused the collapse, which resulted in a series of causes that occurred in sequence,” the panel members said in a statement.

Among its 17 recommendations, the panel said the province should invest $5 billion over a 10-year period to restore the province¹s bridges. While noting that deteriorating infrastructure is a major problem throughout Canada and the United States, it said the problem is “more pronounced in Quebec.” An independent agency with the resources and funding to oversee the modernization, maintenance and upkeep of the province’s approximately 4,400 bridges and overpasses will soon be created, Transport Minister Julie Boulet announced Oct. 19. Transports Québec, the province’s transportation department, will retain responsibility for roads.

As part of an objective to restore 83% of its roads and 80% of the structures within 15 years, the province will be investing approximately $11 billion in infrastructure over the next four as part of an initial five-year recovery plan, says Boulet.

Boulet’s announcement came just one day after the release of the commissions report into the collapse of the 36-year-old de la Concorde overpass. Five people were killed and several others injured when tons of concrete and steel fell on their cars. The accident triggered inspections of similar bridges throughout the province.135

Canadian Construction Association spokesperson Jeff Morrison says the recommendations have a lot of merit. “We welcome the emphasis on the need for governments at all levels to focus on the rehabilitation of existing infrastructure -- and of course we welcome the subsequent announcement by the Quebec government to invest over $11 billion in repairing and maintaining existing bridge and overpass infrastructure.”