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Bridge partially reopens after break that cut Canada in two

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Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Monday, January 11, 2016, 9:42 AM - The Nipigon River Bridge has partially reopened, after a major mechanical failure forced its closure Sunday, essentially cutting Canada in two.

The link, part of the Trans-Canada Highway, split during a period of intense cold Sunday, raising parts of its surface 60 cm, making it impassable to vehicles.

On Monday morning, the Ontario Provincial Police tweeted that one lane had been opened, warning drivers to expect delays. 

Ontario's transportation ministry has dispatched engineers to the region to assess the damage. The closure temporarily shut down the only link between eastern and western Canada, stranding some travellers and forcing others to take a detour through the United States.

The mechanical failure comes shortly after the bridge reopened amidst a twinning project costing $106 million. Two westbound lanes opened on November 29, according to TB News Watch.

Ashley Littlefield, a resident of the nearby community of Dorion, told the CBC she was there when the bridge failed.

"As we turned ... we saw the whole bridge — a kind of big gust of wind came underneath it and blew it up and then it came back down," Littlefield told the broadcaster. "We watched two pickup trucks come flying over ... They didn't see us, didn't hear my horn honking, and they flew over and smashed their front ends down on the cement."

Daytime highs in the region were in the negative mid teens, feeling close to -24 in Nipigon at the time the bridge split. Extreme temperature differentials can cause steel and other materials to expand and contract, but modern bridges are typically built with that in mind. There is currently no indication weather was a factor in the malfunction, and engineers will investigate on Monday.

The closure stranded several people in the region, prompting the Township of Nipigon to open its community centre to anyone needing a place to stay. The community's mayor, Richard Harvey, told CBC the bridge closure is part of the town's emergency plan.

"If this is something that is going to take a little longer, we do have other options that we'll be looking at to get traffic moving as quickly as possible," he told the broadcaster.

The nearby community of Greenstone declared a state of emergency due to the bridge's closure.

For the latest information on highway closures, the public can call 511, MTO's Road Information Line or check here

Source: CBC News | TB News Watch

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