A bridge providing the only highway link between Eastern and Western Canada split in two Sunday afternoon, and is closed indefinitely as engineers examine the damage.
Local news reports say an expansion joint failed in the severe cold causing one half of the newly built Nipigon River Bridge to rise by two feet.
“Canada has been cut in half,” said Nipigon Mayor Richard Harvey. “If you want to take something from Toronto to B.C., it goes across this bridge. There is no alternative. Every truck that goes across Canada goes across this bridge.”
Harvey said engineers are currently working to find out what exactly happened to the bridge along the Trans-Canada Highway, how serious the problem is and how long it will take to fix.
“Clearly there is a problem, how bad the problem is no one knows at this point,” said Harvey.
The westbound half of the province’s first cable-stayed bridge opened at the end of November — the eastbound half is expected to be completed next year. The old two-lane bridge is in the process of being demolished.
The new bridge is being built so that, “if anything happens there would still be a way across the country,” Harvey noted wryly.
Trucks and motorists are currently being detoured through the U.S. at Sault Ste. Marie where possible.
Harvey said the small Nipigon community, located northeast of Thunder Bay, is stepping up to take in stranded travellers. The local community centre has been opened 24 hours a day to provide a place for motorists to escape the cold. There is substantial traffic on the east side of the bridge and the truck stops are full, he said.
Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle, who oversees northern highways, and Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca are “taking the situation very seriously,” said Harvey.
He said Gravelle will be in Nipigon on Monday to fully appraise the situation.
Harvey said the bridge is a matter of “national security” and that once more information is known about how long repairs will take, it will then be decided what measures to put in place.
The bridge closure will have a serious economic impact for Ontario and for Canada, Harvey added.
“The major shipping lane has been cut off for however long this may be. We have no idea.”